ADJUSTING TO COVID-19 OPERATIONS - VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System
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VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System

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Drive-up triage

Drive-up triage

By Brandy Morrison, Public Affairs Officer
Friday, April 10, 2020

When the entire world is facing a global pandemic, life-changes. Some changes are gradual and go unnoticed while others happen rapidly. The Rocky Mountain Regional (RMR) VA Medical Center has made life-changing modifications to their Emergency Department (ED) operations.

On April 3, 2020, RMR stood up a drive-thru ED triage and acuity level routing processes. Before a Veteran ever steps foot into the facility, they are met by a nurse in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and triaged from their car. Today, that nurse was Eliza Russell, an 18-year veteran of nursing who has been on the frontlines of the RMR ED.

As a key contributor to the development and implementation of the new ED routing process, Russell stressed the importance of these new measures, by stating, “We need to keep respiratory symptoms separated so that we are not unintentionally infecting people with COVID.” From the point of triage, Veteran patients can get routed through one of three ways; COVID-19 testing, drive-thru ED triage for acuity levels 3, 4 or 5, or the Emergency Department.

Mark Phillips, Emergency Department Chief Nurse, expressed how impressed he was with his team that took this idea and brought it to life, sharing that this operation “eases tension in the ED.” Phillips echoed the sentiments of Russell in the overall need for this process stating, “This helps eliminates our people walking into an area with COVID-19 and reduces their exposure.”

When asked to describe the team of nurses and providers through the set up and now implementation of the new emergent care process, Russell said, “In one word, solidarity.” She did not pause or hesitate, she was instead definitive and direct, “solidarity.” RMR has a team of true professionals who have united with a common interest – to keep each other safe and keep our Veterans safe.

Safety is the goal here—to mitigate and minimize risk to both Veterans and staff. VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS) has taken many steps to safeguard both of these populations. ECHCS has canceled all non-emergent surgical and procedural cases, closed down many face-to-face outpatient sites of care, is screening all staff and patients for symptoms and has now implemented a series of tents to increase social distancing while continuing to provide care.

Solidarity has stretched across the health care system as Licensed Independent Practitioners (LIP) and nurses have been realigned to assist with the surge. Melissa Munkwitz, an Orthopedic Physician Assistant, is now supporting the drive-thru ED triage as a treating LIP and said, “This is awesome … We are doing this for the organization and the Veterans. This is teamwork.”

Tyree Morrison, a home-based Primary Care Nurse Practitioner who usually supports the Pueblo region during normal operations, is now in Aurora and working side-by-side with Munkwitz. Morrison said, “This (pointing at the drive-thru operations) is how we do COVID responsibly.”

Since ECHCS had their first COVID-19 patient on March 6, 2020, they have seen the acuity level of their COVID patients increase. This is no longer a travel concern but is based on community spread. In Colorado, the COVID pandemic is projected to surge between April 17 and April 20 and VA ECHCS is taking every necessary step to be ahead of the surge.

If you are a VA ECHCS patient in need of urgent or emergent care, please be patient and kind as this is not our normal operations. Every change that has been put in place is there for the safety of the community.


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