WATERVILLE — Health care workers are out in force, ensuring that those who need to be evaluated or tested for possible coronavirus are cared for.

Northern Light Inland Hospital is operating its medical screening site in the parking lot of the Faith Evangelical Free Church at 250 Kennedy Memorial Drive, and while the hours will change as needed, this week they are noon to 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Hope Pendexter, a registered nurse and manager at Inland, is the site commander and oversees operations at the approximately 100,000-square-foot screening area in the giant parking lot. The church has allowed Inland to use the lot and its youth center building for the command center.

“We are very thankful that the church group lent us this space,” Pendexter said. “We really appreciate it because this is a perfect site.”

At the lot late Thursday morning, Pendexter and other staff were preparing for the day’s operation. She and Sara Barry, Inland’s director of regional marketing and communications, explained the process for those entering the site.

The process for patients to follow when entering the lot is detailed and organized.

Prior to arriving, people must call the screening hotline at 844-489-1822 to help determine their needs. They will be asked questions designed to help determine next steps for their care, such as self-isolating at home, going to a COVID-19 assessment site or accessing other help.

Pendexter has been a registered nurse for 38 years and has worked at Inland 35 years in various capacities including director of the emergency department and the intensive care unit. She currently is manager of Inland’s walk-in care office next to the hospital.

She said on Wednesday, 22 staff worked at the screening site, though that number also changes. Workers include medical assistants, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, those doing traffic control and setup, and patient service representatives who access information on computers.

“Inland and Lakewood employees — and all health care workers — are so dedicated to helping patients during these uncertain times,” Barry said. “This important effort is a great example of how we’re all working together to help protect our patients and our community.”

 

THE PROCESS

As motorists drive into the parking lot from Kennedy Memorial Drive, they are initially directed to a  small tent at the south end of the lot so staff can make sure they are there for evaluation or testing.

If so, they then proceed to two driving lanes that are marked with traffic cones, which allows adequate space for vehicles and prevents traffic from backing up on Kennedy Memorial Drive. Health assessments are done while patients remain in their vehicles.

If a person drives in who has not been referred by a physician or been assessed by someone via the hotline, they are asked to park and call the hotline to be assessed.

“That makes it streamlined for patients and for us as caregivers,” Pendexter said.

At another tent, staff determine if patients have been screened prior to arriving, and if so, their names appear in a computer inside the tent and they are directed to another tent where they are checked to determine if they need medical assistance.

Then they drive to the main tent which has two separated lanes.

Once there, their temperature and vital signs are taken by nurses and medical assistants and they are checked for respiratory symptoms and lung sounds to determine stability and whether they need further care, according to Pendexter.

“They may need a swab test for COVID-19 or medical assistance by a provider,” she said.

If patients are OK, they may be sent home and asked to self-isolate, according to Pendexter.

“If they need a higher level of care, that’s when they go on to the emergency department,” she said. “If they need emergent care, we call Delta Ambulance, which brings them from here to the hospital.”

While Pendexter would not answer a question about how many people visited the site last week, she said the numbers are rising and the site’s hours may increase depending on need.

“A huge message that we can’t reinforce enough is that our community needs to practice social distancing. Stay home and take care of yourself and your family members for sure, but this isn’t a time to go shopping for pleasure and having family gatherings,” she said.

She and Barry emphasized that people should call the statewide screening number before coming.

“Our goal is to take care of patients here, to evaluate those patients here and keep them out of the emergency department so the emergency department is taking care of our sickest patients,” Pendexter said.

Coronavirus tests are evaluated by the Center for Disease Control and other labs.

“They all have to be cleared through the Maine State lab,” Pendexter said.

She and Barry recommended that those seeking guidance visit cdc.gov or 211maine.org, or call 211 for more COVID-19 information and resources.

MaineGeneral Medical Center has set up tents outside of its emergency departments in Augusta and Waterville as a precaution to screen or test only people who are being admitted to that part of the hospital.

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