L+M drive-by site handles 40 patients in first 2 days, aims to step up pace
New London — Lawrence + Memorial Hospital's drive-up specimen collection station for coronavirus testing hit stride early Wednesday, eventually processing 26 patients on its second day. It had processed 14 patients Tuesday.
In an interview in the afternoon, Dr. Oliver Mayorga, L+M's chief medical officer, said the hospital's goal was to process about 30 patients a day at the outdoor site, one of four Yale New Haven Health launched this week with the approval of the state Department of Public Health. The others are at Bridgeport, Greenwich and Yale New Haven hospitals.
Hartford HealthCare has opened drive-by sites at Hartford Hospital and MidState Medical Center in Meriden and expects to open others, including one at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. The Hartford Hospital site processed more than 100 patients Tuesday.
"We can do four an hour for eight hours, and we can increase that," Mayorga said of the L+M drive-up's capacity.
Patients who have a doctor's order for the coronavirus test drive up to the site and can either remain in their vehicle or get out and sit down in a chair as a nurse swabs a nostril and the back of the throat, a procedure that takes less than five minutes. The samples are sent to laboratories that test them for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the pandemic disease sweeping the globe.
"We get a better sample, a more accurate sample, if the patient gets out of the vehicle," Mayorga said. "But we do make exceptions."
School nurses who are members of Yale New Haven Health's Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut and who faced being laid off amid school closings, have joined colleagues working at the drive-up site, according to a spokesman for the association's union, AFT Connecticut.
The association's union leaders negotiated with Yale New Haven Health administrators, who assigned the school nurses to the site during the coronavirus crisis, the spokesman, Matt O'Connor, said.
Mayorga said the patients swabbed at the L+M site have been "young, old, children and adults — mainly adults." He said those swabbed included some health care workers — members of the L+M staff and others working locally — who believed they may have been exposed to someone carrying the disease or show its symptoms.
"We've discharged some people from the ER (emergency room) to get swabbed," he said.
The labs that conduct the tests report the results to the doctor or other health care provider who ordered the test, and it is the provider's responsibility to notify patients who test positive, according to Mayorga. Results also are reported to the Department of Public Health. Physicians determine which patients need to be hospitalized, a decision that typically includes discussion of a patient's social support system and underlying health issues.
Before the drive-up sites, local residents suspected of being infected with the coronavirus had few, if any options. Mayorga said it would be highly risky for primary care physicians to do the swabbing in their offices. Lacking the proper equipment, he said, they could heighten their own risk for exposure. He said the drive-up sites are the only safe alternative.
As of Wednesday, L+M's emergency room was "quiet," Mayorga said, a circumstance that could change rapidly. Only the relative lack of testing statewide and nationally has limited the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Looking ahead, Mayorga said, L+M is intent on optimizing its telehealth services to facilitate discussions between doctors and patients without them having to occupy the same physical space. He said the hospital also has plans to expand its capacity by converting nonmedical areas to other uses, if necessary, and is looking into lodging options for staff who may be concerned about endangering their families at home. Local colleges and hotels have offered to make vacant dormitories and rooms available for such purposes, he said.
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