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Hamblen County hospital enters surge plan after increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations

Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System, in the middle of a virus "hot spot," implemented phase one of its surge plan after seeing an increase in COVID-19 patients.

HAMBLEN COUNTY, Tenn. — The hospital in the middle of Hamblen County's virus "hot spot," reports a spike in COVID-19 patients. The hospital is entering the first phase of a surge plan.

Leaders at Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System, a hospital with the Covenant Health network, said Tuesday they are starting to see more COVID-19 patients through their doors.

"It's very difficult for us as staff, because caring for these patients, they require a lot of care and there's a lot of unknowns about the virus still," President and CAO of MHHS Gordon Lintz said.

Some patients are in critical care, and the uptick in cases means two things: the hospital requested more ventilators to have on hand, and the staff is implementing the first phase of their "surge plan."

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"The hospital has surge plans and they're in different levels," Lintz explained. "We've currently enacted our first level of the surge plan which included taking a unit and making it all negative pressure."

That means, in the secluded "COVID unit" on the fourth floor, all the air from patient rooms is exhausted directly outside, not throughout the hospital, and the staff is covered in the proper PPE.

This is the first time since the pandemic the Hamblen County healthcare system has had to make this step.

"Hopefully we'll be able to contain the virus and we will not see an increased number of patients coming in," Lintz admitted. "But if so, our hospital, our staff, our physicians, we're prepared to go to the next level of our surge plan if needed."

Lintz said the COVID unit is fluid and more beds can be added at any time.

RELATED: COVID-19 spreads evenly in 'hot spot' Hamblen County

"What's important for our community to know is that this virus is real and we need to take this seriously," Lintz urged. "We need to make sure we continue to wear masks in public, we need to make sure that we continue to wash our hands and that we maintain safe social distancing. That’s the only way we’re gonna be able to control the virus.”

Lintz said while he, as a healthcare professional, is not worried, the whole team at Covenant is proceeding with caution. 

The hospital was not on diversion as of Tuesday. The staff can continue treating patients as long as it has space. Only one entrance to the hospital is open, under the big blue awning.

The other entrances are closed so staff can more closely monitor who enters, and do health checks at the door.

“If you need emergency care, if you need acute care, please come to the hospital," Lintzed pleaded. "As I said, we have the PPE, we have the precautions in place to safely take care of you, and we want to make sure that the patients get the care that they need at the time they need it. We don’t want them to wait so long that when they come in they are in a much worse state than they would have otherwise.”

RELATED: 'Still scared': Health workers feel the toll of virus fight