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Merit Health CEO: Hospital safe for routine patient needs

Editor’s note: The story below incorrectly listed the new visitation policy for patients at Merit Health. Changes to the visitation policy only apply to outpatient surgery patients. The story has been corrected below. We regret the error and are glad to set record straight.

NATCHEZ — No one should be afraid to take care of routine or emergency healthcare needs at their doctor’s office or the hospital, Merit Health CEO Lance Boyd said in a virtual Friday Forum hosted by the Natchez Adams Chamber of Commerce.

Boyd said that no patients who have come to the hospital COVID-19 free have contracted the disease by receiving care.

As of Friday, the hospital was treating seven COVID-19 patients in an isolated unit of the hospital, two were on ventilators and four patients were in an isolated rehabilitation facility after severe cases of the disease, Boyd said, adding even more patients had recovered entirely.

Boyd also said the return rate on positive COVID-19 tests is very low — with around 15% of tests coming back positive.

“One statistic people need to realize is that zero patients have gotten COVID-19 by coming to our hospital,” Boyd said. “We’ve gone through a great deal of effort to segregate our regular patients from COVID-19 patients.”

In conversations with AMR Director Tim Houghton, Boyd said he was told that in April AMR had responded to 400 calls and only 30% of those patients accepted care.

“The reason others didn’t was they were afraid of getting COVID-19,” Boyd said, adding some who refused care had severe illnesses such as a heart attack and partial paralysis.

Boyd said there had been patients who came to the hospital after avoiding care out of fear and their situations became worse, including a patient who had broken bones that had not healed properly because they were never set and put into a cast.

Since the pandemic, the hospital has lost 50 to 60% of its regular volume of patients, Boyd said, adding the very few patients who are COVID-19 positive or presumably positive are separated from all other patients while the rest of the hospital is nearly empty.

The hospital also screens every patient upon entry and requires that everyone wear a mask, Boyd said.

Meanwhile, the hospital has relaxed its visitation policy slightly to allow one visitor per patient for outpatient surgery patients. Previously, no visitors were allowed unless patients were at the end of their life or were mentally impaired, Boyd said.

When asked by a forum participant if Natchez was reopening too soon, Boyd said he believes eventually people will have to learn to live and do business in a world where COVID-19 exits and still take the needed safety measures to combat spreading the disease.

“We can’t pick a date on a calendar when all of this is over,” he said. “… However, I think we can pick a date where we all go bankrupt. … We don’t have the luxury of waiting until the world is COVID-19 free.”