LMH working on plans for more COVID testing; looking ahead to possible vaccine deployment

photo by: Chris Conde

LMH Health is pictured in a file photo from October 2018.

LMH Health has figured out that federal funding will buy the hospital about 60,000 COVID-19 test kits, but it hasn’t yet figured out who they will be used on.

Leaders at the hospital also have figured out something else: 60,000 isn’t as big of a number as it sounds.

“That sounds like a lot, but we’ll go through that very quickly,” Russ Johnson, president and CEO of LMH Health told the hospital’s board of directors at a Wednesday meeting. “We’re looking at where are the vulnerable populations, the at-risk populations, who doesn’t have access to other testing opportunities?”

Those decisions may still be a few weeks off, and they won’t be made by the hospital alone, LMH spokesperson Amy Northrop said. The hospital is working with the community’s Unified Command team — a group of city, county, education and health department leaders — to determine the right way to deploy the tests.

While those decisions are still to come, there is work underway right now. The hospital is undertaking about $800,000 worth of construction projects to better equip the hospital to deliver both tests and a possible COVID-19 vaccine in the future.

Plans call for testing to continue along the north edge of the LMH campus, 325 Maine Street, in a facility that used to serve as an ambulance bay. But about $480,000 in improvements are being made to further enclose and weatherize the facility, which allows people to have the test taken from their vehicles.

“There is a roof already, but there is not a lot to protect staff from the winds that howl through there,” Northrop said. “During rain, they get a bit moist. Rain is one thing, but the snow and ice are probably something else.”

The facility will continue to be able to serve about 175 patients per day, Northrop said.

Another $400,000 worth of work is set for a different part of the LMH campus. An existing storage building in the northwest corner of the campus will be renovated to serve as a facility that could provide mass vaccinations, assuming that a vaccine becomes available in the future. The facility also could provide the hospital more capacity to do testing for COVID-19.

Current plans call for that facility to serve 600 to 800 patients per day, if needed.

Hospital leaders, though, were tamping down expectations about how soon a vaccine may be available. Johnson told board members that he was expecting disruptions to the hospital and society in general for many more months.

“There is very little likelihood that we’ll see significant mitigation before the third or fourth quarter of next year,” Johson said. “While there may be a vaccine out in the first quarter, the delivery probably will be narrowly targeted for health care and first responders.”

He said a vaccine may be widely available by the third or fourth quarter, but said the country appears to be in an “unfortunate situation” where upwards of 25% of the population distrusts vaccines to the point they may not receive one once they become available.

Johnson said the situation demands that the hospital continue to plan for more financial and operational disruptions related to the virus.

“We are not in a mode of waiting it out right now and hoping the next 30 to 60 days ameliorates or gets us back to normal,” Johnson said.

In other news from Wednesday’s LMH board meeting:

• Board members heard the partnership between LMH and the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to run the county’s new behavioral health crisis center are coming together on schedule.

The two nonprofits have formed a new corporation — Behavioral Health Partners Inc. — to run the new center, which will be located at the corner of Maine and West Second streets. The corporation will have nine board members, three appointed by LMH, three by Bert Nash and three by Douglas County commissioners. The board is expected to be in place by December.

A ground breaking for the crisis center is scheduled for Friday. Construction on the facility is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021.

• Financial reports presented to the board show the hospital continues to post a loss as it deals with the pandemic. Through September, the hospital has posted a $7.2 million operating loss for the year. However, September showed some signs of improvement, with about a $700,000 operating profit for the month.

The hospital’s overall loss for the year narrows significantly when various forms of non-operating income, including assistance related to the pandemic, are added to the results. With that non operating revenue added to the mix, LMH has posted about a $1.8 million loss year to date.


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