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Physician reviews Meritus' steps in fighting COVID-19

Meritus Health is "loaded" to deal with a potential surge of COVID-19 patients, a physician said last week.

With no cure and no vaccine for COVID-19, Dr. Shaheen Iqbal said, people's choices, such as maintaining social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands, remain the critical factors in avoiding a surge of the disease.

"The behavior controls the outbreak," he said.

Iqbal is the interim chief medical officer at Meritus Health. During a half-hour phone interview Friday, he reviewed some of the steps Meritus has taken and is taking to stem the spread of the disease and help those who fall ill.

"We are a community hospital, but we are as good and as loaded as other hospitals," the physician said.

"What the world has to offer, we have it all except ECMO. ... That's the only thing we don't have."

"ECMO" stands for "extracorporeal membrane oxygenation." The machine pumps a patient's blood to a device that adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide, bypassing the patient's lungs and helping the person recover.

Meritus Medical Center near Hagerstown has 61 ventilators and a team of people trained to use them and to provide other care to COVID-19 patients, he said.

The facility has a 24-bed intensive care unit and the ability to expand the ICU into other areas if necessary.

Meritus also has devoted a floor to COVID-positive patients who do not require the ICU, Iqbal said.

"We have a pretty loaded intensive care unit. ... We should be able to handle it from a technical perspective," Iqbal said.

That doesn't count a new unit under construction. The $12.5 million addition will establish a 20-bed, negative pressure and ventilator-capable unit.

Iqbal said a proactive approach by Meritus has provided access to some of the most-discussed medications and treatments related to the COVID-19 fight.

They include Remdesivir, which is allocated by the Maryland Department of Health; hydroxychloroquine, which has been available for use locally since the start of the pandemic; convalescent plasma, which is taken from fully recovered COVID-19 patients to help those who are severely ill; and Actemra, which can help keep some patients from being placed on a ventilator.

The doctor also praised what he called another proactive move by Meritus in processing COVID-19 tests locally. The change has cut the wait time, he said.

"It was taking seven to 10 days for the results to come back. This is not acceptable," Iqbal said.

Now results typically are available within 24 hours.

Meritus also has established a COVID-19 clinic for patients who have nonemergency health care needs and are either confirmed or suspected by a health care provider to have the disease.

The clinic is at 13620 Crayton Blvd., inside Meritus Medical Plaza. It is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.

Iqbal also praised the community's efforts to control the spread of the new coronavirus, which can cause COVID-19.

By now, he said, the basic precaution list, from washing hands to wearing masks, is a "no-brainer."

"Even one death is too many," he said.

Link to original article: https://www.heraldmailmedia.com/instant/physician-reviews-meritus-steps-in-fighting-covid-19/article_100c21ee-adda-11ea-858b-eb340a7700e8.html