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Did Lake Regional Contradict Health Department Over Covid Concerns? Hospital CEO Clears The Air

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Lake Regional Hospital

“We work really closely with public health… we depend on them a lot.” Dane Henry, CEO of Lake Regional Health System, says he wants the Lake of the Ozarks community to hear that message.

Henry and others at Lake Regional were concerned about some people’s response to a recent open letter to the community penned by the CEO. In it, Henry pointed to the recent trend of increasing Covid-19 cases in the region. He warned, “As the number of COVID-19 cases in our community continues to climb, we again face a stark truth: This pandemic is not just happening somewhere else – it’s happening here.”

READ THE FULL LETTER HERE:

Some felt that message contrasted with a recent press release from Camden County Health Department Administrator Bee Dampier: she had acknowledged a recent climb in cases, and also pointed out most people had been experiencing mild-to-moderate symptoms. In particular, comments on LakeExpo's Facebook share of the article expressed dismay over the apparent contradiction.

Lake Regional Assistant Manager of Public Relations Anita Harrison explained, “We understand how [those] points might be confusing to those who want to form an opinion based on fact but who are struggling to sort through messages that on the surface, appear to conflict.” While most cases are indeed mild-to-moderate, Harrison said, Henry and Lake Regional wanted to alert the public that hospitalizations related to Covid-19 have been on the rise, as the number of local cases rises.

Not Done For The Summer

In an interview with LakeExpo, Henry pointed back to April, when they were testing a maximum of 35 people in a day, with an average of 3–5 new positive cases daily. “Then towards the middle part of May and Memorial Day Weekend, we were at zero, zero, zero, zero….” he recalled. “We felt… that it was gonna be done for the summer and we might see it come back in the fall.” But, as Henry and the health department have pointed out, positive cases are on the rise again.

Even though only a small percentage of people infected by Covid-19 will need hospitalization, it is inevitable that as cases in the community rise, hospitalizations will rise. "That’s what’s starting to kind of worry us," Henry said. "We’re seeing happen again what happened back in the spring."

"The expected death rate for COVID-19 nationally is 1 per 100 cases," explained Jennifer Bethurem, Lake Regional’s VP of Public Relations and Marketing. "Currently in Camden County, we are on pace for 100 new cases every 5 days, which means we can expect 1 death every 5 days."

Lake Regional CEO Dane Henry

Henry walks the line between alarmism and realism: raising appropriate concern without being overly alarmist. Even at the height of the Lake area’s busy season, when hospitalizations for all sorts of issues are at their peak (“We do things besides take care of coronavirus patients”), Henry points out Lake Regional is not at the point of being overwhelmed. They just don’t want to get to that point. The hospital has 18 beds in ICU and as of Friday, July 31, 6 of them held Covid patients, with 5 tests pending. Lake Regional has 15 primary ventilators, with the capacity to ventilate about 25 patients at any given time.

Lake Regional physicians have learned, along with doctors across the country, better ways to treat Covid patients, as the novel virus becomes slightly less novel. “We’ve learned a lot about how to manage these patients, both medically… and from a ventilator standpoint,” he said.

Treatments

Lake Regional’s Chief Medical Officer Harbaksh Sangha, M.D., nephrologist and critical care specialist revealed Lake Regional’s current treatment regimens include high-flow oxygen delivery, Remdesivir and dexamethasone, and proning (positioning patients on their stomachs).

The challenge, Henry said, is that doctors can not predict who will have a tough time with the virus: “Some of the sickest people that we have seen here at our hospital have been the ones that we have said, ‘You’re not going to be the sick one.’” Sometimes, inexplicably, patients who Henry says are “much older… smoker, lung disease…” end up having an easier time of it than a patient who appeared to be much healthier before contracting the virus.

This week, hydroxychloroquine returned as a hotly contested treatment option in the U.S. Some doctors point to their incredible success treating patients with that antiviral drug and a combination of an antibiotic and other supplements, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently authorize or recommend its use for treating Covid-19. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn deferred to take a definitive stance on the drug, Thursday on NBC, however. “We had data that when this drug was combined with others, there was some risk associated with that. But the question you’re asking me is a decision between a doctor and a patient,” he said on the “Today” show.

Would Lake Regional doctors consider using the controversial drug, if a patient requested it? “Lake Regional providers follow evidence-based guidelines for the evaluation and treatment of COVID-19. The current body of evidence and guidelines suggest using Remdesivir and Dexamethasone (or another steroid) for COVID patients,” Bethurem replied. “Only evidence-based and RBI approved clinical trial based treatment options are offered and prescribed. Patient requests will be seriously considered if they are part of evidence based guidelines or part of RBI approved clinical trials.”

‘Be Thoughtful’

The coronavirus still poses more questions than answers, not just regarding treatment but about what the future holds. Henry presses the idea that the Lake community should take seriously precautions like social distancing and masks, so the virus does not grow to unsustainable levels. “We need to be thoughtful,” he urged. “There’s some things that we can do to help each other.”

“What we’re hoping for is that folks will take a step back and say, ‘I hate wearing a mask. I hate social distancing… but it does help.’”

He urged the public to adopt the attitude of, “Let’s keep our neighbors well, let’s keep our friends well.’”

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