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St. Louis health leaders working together to respond to COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic brings unprecedented challenges to the St. Louis region, front-line staff and administrative leaders from BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital remain united in their mission to support the St. Louis community through this challenging time. We are working in close partnership with local and state health departments and our academic medical institutions, Saint Louis University and Washington University Schools of Medicine.

We remain confident that knowledge, vigilance and cooperation will enable the St. Louis community to weather the COVID-19 pandemic together.

BJC, Mercy, SSM and St. Luke’s are collaborating, with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Missouri and Illinois health departments, to give community members access to factual, current information and quality care connected to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

The number of COVID-19 cases in the St. Louis region is beginning to rise. The peak number of cases in our area is predicted to be weeks away yet. So, BJC, Mercy, SSM and St. Luke’s are working together now, implementing plans and making decisions geared to minimizing the risk to area residents throughout the entire course of this outbreak. We talk frequently, collaborate closely and make adjustments as the situation evolves.

No visitors policy

The outbreak has led to some difficult, but necessary, decisions. To help better protect our patients and staff against COVID-19 transmission, BJC, Mercy, SSM and St. Luke’s have all put in place a “No Visitors” policy.

We realize there must be exceptions in limited cases, such as obstetrics, pediatrics and end-of-life care. Those visitors who are allowed will be screened and may need to wear personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns.

For more information on visitor exceptions and procedures, visit the system website of the hospital you may be visiting (see box below).

We recognize that family and friends are important to the healing process and will evaluate this policy regularly.

COVID-19 testing sites

BJC, Mercy, SSM and St. Luke’s have set up more drive-through testing sites in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County in Missouri and St. Clair County in Illinois for patients who have been screened and meet the criteria for testing.

While more sites are available, patients still must be screened before being tested. Due to a limited number of COVID-19 testing supplies across the U.S., only patients who are very ill and meet COVID-19 criteria are currently being tested. For those with milder symptoms, we recommend staying home and away from others and taking care of yourself as you would with other viruses. Call your physician if you feel that your condition is worsening.

Patients who feel they meet the requirements still must be screened before being tested. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or think you may have been exposed to someone who has the disease, call your health care provider, the local health department or local hospital to be screened for testing, or take the virtual screening on BJC’s site, BJC.org/coronavirus, or SSM Health’s site, SSMHealth.com/covid19.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO

Your part matters

You play a vital role in helping St. Louis get through this pandemic. To control the spread of COVID-19, each and every one of you needs to continue washing your hands effectively and often, continue social distancing by maintaining a 6-foot distance between yourself and others and comply with the stay-home order.

Do it for yourself and your community.

Coping with stress and anxiety

The COVID-19 outbreak not only causes physical symptoms, it can threaten emotional and mental health — regardless of whether one has been infected with the virus.

With disruptions to normal life, lost income, social isolation and fear for your safety and that of your loved ones, feelings of anger, worry, frustration or loss are natural. But it’s essential to manage the stress you’re feeling to stay physically and mentally healthy.

What you can do to stay resilient in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak:

  • Get credible information from a trusted source about COVID-19 and your actual risk. The CDC or the BJC, Mercy, SSM and St. Luke’s websites (see box above) and news reports featuring health or government experts are good places to get solid information. Be aware that misinformation and rumors can spread quickly — especially on social media.
  • Avoid too much news exposure. Balance staying informed with news overload. A constant stream of pandemic updates can increase anxiety.
  • Keep your body healthy. It boosts your mental health. Maintain a healthy diet. Get enough sleep. Exercise regularly. Don’t use alcohol, nicotine or other drugs to blunt anxiety.
  • Reach out to others. Call, text, write or video chat regularly with family and friends. Online book clubs, dance parties and special interest groups let you connect with others while social distancing.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are many free resources available to help you through this difficult time.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Disaster Distress Hotline with counselors available 24/7, 365 days a year. Call or text 1-800-985-5990 or go to samhsa.gov.

Times of crisis often lead to an increase in domestic violence. If you or someone you know is in a violent situation, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, thehotline.org or 1-800-799-7233.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24/7. Call 1-800-273-8255.

For more information on COVID-19 and related issues, contact:
Missouri Department of Health: 877-435-8411
Illinois Department of Health: dph.illinois.gov/covid19
For additional information:
www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov
 https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases
/novel-coronavirus-2019
www.bjc.org/coronavirus
www.mercy.net/covid19
www.ssmhealth.com
www.stlukes-stl.com

WHAT WE’RE DOING

At BJC, Mercy, SSM and St. Luke’s, the safety of our patients and staff is our top priority. We have developed comprehensive COVID-19 safety plans for patients and staff using CDC guidelines and guidance from our own infection prevention and safety experts.

With these plans, we are doing our best to keep all patients and team members as safe and as comfortable as possible, while conserving the supply of specialized, regulation personal protective equipment (PPE), such as N-95 respirator masks, for those in the highest risk, direct patient care situations.

At this time, most of the patients seen at our hospitals are NOT infected with COVID-19, and providers will exercise normal precautions like handwashing before and after patient care. Those caring for patients who are infected with the virus or suspected of being exposed will take special precautions like use of appropriate PPE.

Supply chain personnel at BJC, Mercy, SSM and St. Luke’s have been working diligently to locate additional sources of PPE, especially the specialized equipment needed to care for COVID-19 patients.

The outpouring of offers from across the community to provide masks and other supplies for our employees is very much appreciated. Many of us have established a process for assessing, collecting and distributing donations. Also, community locations, such as local fire departments, are collecting donations. Check our websites for more donation information (see box above).

We don’t discourage use of non-regulation approved PPE in non-patient care areas. Their use helps allay anxiety and comply with social distancing principles, including “don’t touch your face.” But to ensure patient and staff safety, we undertake very stringent steps to evaluate and examine all donations and make sure they are distributed appropriately.

We thank all of those who are reaching out to us to help. With your cooperation, we will weather this pandemic, together.

Clay Dunagan, MD, MS, BJC Healthcare, Senior Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer

Keith Starke, MD, Mercy, Senior Vice President and Chief Quality Officer

Alexander Garza, MD, MPH, SSM Health, Chief Medical Officer

J. William Campbell, MD, St. Luke’s Hospital, Infectious Disease Specialist and Medical Director

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