KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee Medical Center is working to meet increased demands for health care resources, as COVID-19 patients continue to fill ICU beds across East Tennessee.
They recently expanded to be able to treat up to 40 patients a day with monoclonal antibody infusions. UTMC said there is a growing demand across the community for ways to treat people with COVID-19 and so, they are taking a new approach to help people.
The treatment is different from convalescent plasma treatments but still implements a similar concept. With monoclonal antibody infusions, health care workers use cells from people that recovered from COVID-19 to produce antibodies that fight the virus. Giving people a dose of the antibodies can help prevent the infection from getting worse.
This helps prevent people with COVID-19 from having to be admitted to the emergency room. It helps hospitals in East Tennessee cut down on the area's growing demand for health care resources, while also helping make sure people are treated.
The infusions are done with COVID-19 positive outpatients who are at high risk for the coronavirus. So far, the COVID-19 Infusion Center at UTMC has helped more than 1,400 patients.
"We've been doing this for many months, it's not something new," said Cathy Hilton, the assistant director of the center. "But with this, our increasing numbers in the last few weeks, we're trying to rapidly increase the volume that we can see every day."
Patients who want the monoclonal antibody treatment will need a referral from a health care provider. They must also have tested positive for COVID-19, have mild or moderate symptoms and get the infusion within 10 days of when symptoms started.
They must also be considered high risk. People are considered to be high risk if they:
- Are 65 years and older
- Have underlying conditions, such as diabetes or chronic heart disease
- Have a compromised immune system, such as, patients with cancer and those who have undergone transplantation
- You are receiving high doses of steroids or other drugs to suppress your immune system
Hilton said that the medical center gets many referrals for the treatment. Providers can refer patients online.
She also said they can offer the treatment Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. She also said that some days, they can treat more than 40 people per day.
"We're trying our best to make sure that everyone gets it as soon as possible," said Hilton. "As soon as the patient can get it, the more effective it is."
Health care officials also emphasized that the treatment is not a cure for COVID-19. Instead, it is a way to prevent early infections from getting worse. They also emphasized patients will need to get a referral from a provider for the treatment.