Editor's note: This story is part one in a three-part series on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected Sugar Land and Missouri City health care providers.
In early March, Fort Bend County reported the first case of the coronavirus in the Greater Houston area, launching hospitals and urgent care facilities to the forefront of the pandemic. Health care providers quickly had to overhaul operations and rethink procedures to keep patients safe.
While the Houston area has not seen a surge in coronavirus patients like other parts of the country and world have, Chris Siebenaler, the regional senior vice president and chief executive officer of Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, said hospitals still had to prepare for a potential influx of patients.
“Dealing with the influx of [COVID-19] patients presents a unique set of challenges because we don't have a lot of data as to how do you care for these patients,” Siebenaler said. “For a period of about six or seven weeks, it was a daily dynamic process of understanding what's happening; what's changing in terms of how we care for these patients; what precautions we take in terms of [personal protective equipment]. All of those things tended to be very challenging on a day in and day out basis.”
The coronavirus pandemic had an immediate and drastic effect on hospitals in the CHI St. Luke’s system, said Steven Foster, president and CEO of CHI St. Luke’s Sugar Land Hospital.
Like most other hospitals in the area, Foster said CHI St. Luke’s implemented a no-visitor policy, established mask requirements, began screening everyone in the hospital for coronavirus symptoms and rearranged furniture to promote social distancing.
“When you walk in our hospital, it looks different,” Foster said. “We don't have our beautiful furniture in the lounge area, and the things that we've put out to reduce the stress of being in the hospital, now they're empty hallways. We've got the signs on the floor that say please remember to space out every 6 feet. So it's a much different place.”
Foster said the hospital also established COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 wings of the hospital to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“Everything has been redesigned and very well thought out to make sure that there's no danger or fear of that virus spreading,” Foster said.
At Next Level Urgent Care, CEO Dr. Juliet Breeze said to keep the virus out of clinics, staff has begun initiating patient visits from the car, where they take vitals and screen for any potential symptoms.
“Right away we started to understand that we were going to have to change the way we saw patients because there was just so much fear and panic in both my staff population and the patient population,” Breeze said.
Breeze said the coronavirus has presented the most challenging obstacles of her career, but she knew her staff had an important role to play during the pandemic. Next Level Urgent Care has a clinic in both Sugar Land and Missouri City.
“We're health care providers,” Breeze said. “We can't shut our doors when a virus comes calling.”