Dec. 28—NEOSHO, Mo. — As omicron cases skyrocket across the state, Freeman Neosho Hospital enters the new year with an upgraded emergency room capable of dealing directly with threats posed by COVID-19.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Tuesday morning for the $1.5 million "floor-to-ceiling" renovation project that added three negative-pressure isolation examination rooms to the department.
"We've excited about the improvements that have taken place," said Renee Denton, Freeman Neosho Hospital's chief operating officer. "I don't know if there are very many (emergency departments) in smaller, rural communities that actually have true negative-pressure rooms like we do here. There may be, but certainly it was needed here."
Other additions to the emergency department include a second triage area, but with negative-pressure specifically for COVID-19-positive patients; a nearby nurses' station; and a centralized storage area.
"These renovations are important because it helps us appropriately isolate patients of concern who are waiting for evaluation ... and they help us minimize exposure to the virus," Denton said.
Before the renovation project's completion, various rooms and empty spaces were converted and dedicated to the testing and treating of COVID-19 patients inside the hospital; however, those areas were scattered throughout the building, Denton said. To deal with the influx of COVID-19 patients over the last year and a half, certain areas were converted into needed but temporary negative-pressure rooms, including a portion of the hospital's cafe and gift shop, Denton said.
"Hospitals across the world are having to improve their isolation areas; one of the reasons for that, obviously, is that many of the pathogens of COVID-19 are airborne and respiratory droplets," she said. "Because of that, it's very important to have a negative-pressure space that we can use to keep people who are suspected of or have been diagnosed with COVID" safe and separated from both staff and patients.
Negative-pressure rooms act like sophisticated attic fans — they essentially pull air from a room into a centralized air filtration unit that scrubs it clean before it is vented outdoors.
The $1.5 million also funded earlier in the year four new negative-pressure isolation rooms in the hospital's medical surgical area as well as three negative-pressure rooms in the intensive care unit. New heating and air conditioning systems were also installed to accommodate the negative-pressure air flow design inside the 10 negative-pressure rooms and new triage area.
"These renovations focus on the protection of patients and staff from pathogens such as COVID-19," said Paula Baker, Freeman president and CEO. "They also help us improve care and service to patients and their families."
It took roughly 120 minutes for hospital staff to ready one of the old temporary COVID-19 rooms before a new infectious patient could be seen, Baker said. The room had to sit empty for at least 90 minutes to allow living viruses either floating in the air or surviving on surfaces to die. Only after a thorough cleaning by staff could the room be safely opened to a new patient — "and nothing is more frustrating to patients than having to wait for a room to open," she said.
"But with the new negative-pressure rooms (in place)," Baker said, "it only takes 20 minutes between patients ... so you can see what a great improvement that is in patient safety."
Renovation work to the emergency department began in early October. Work to build the seven negative-pressure rooms inside the ICU and medical surgery area was initiated last March.
"Our crew has worked very hard to make this day possible," Denton added. "Our nurses and physicians are extremely proud of the care that we provide to our community here in Neosho. So it is only right that we are doing that in the safest way possible. These renovations have allowed us to do that today."