Brownwood Regional Medical Center continuously works to be prepared for all types of infectious diseases such as measles, flu or new viruses like coronavirus (COVID-19), hospital CEO Jace Jones said.

“We regularly hold drills for emergency situations,” Jones said. “A pandemic is one such event that has been covered through the years.”

All hospitals, including BRMC, closely monitor updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Jones said.

“Following these updates and general news reports from across the world, we became aware of the seriousness of the situation,” Jones said. “The CDC provided directions to medical facilities to assist in preparing and communication to prevent the spread of the virus along with the specified recommendations for treatment of the pandemic.”

Safety remains BRMC’s highest priority and all current precautions remain in place, Jones said.

“We have taken numerous actions for infection prevention, restricted access to our facility, social distancing and patient flow to maintain a safe environment,” Jones said.

“Our hospital and caregivers practice infection prevention every day, including wearing personal protective equipment, washing hands before and after caring for each patient, and through procedures designed to keep all who enter the facility safe.”

Cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces and caregiving spaces has been intensified.

Access is controlled with only one entry point to the building, the walk-in entrance near the emergency room.

Everyone who enters the hospital is screened, including staff.

All employees and physicians are expected to wear masks.

The number of procedures performed each day is being limited to minimize wait times.

Furniture in waiting areas is spaced to maintain appropriate social distancing.

Non-COVID-19-care (NCC) zones are defined where care for patients who have been screened negative for COVID-19 will receive care from dedicated staff.

Any suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients in the hospital are grouped together in the same unit away from other patients. Staff working in the COVID-19 care area will not cross over to Non-COVID-19 care zones. Signage is in place to clearly mark entry to areas limited to designated staff.

“The effects of COVID-19 have touched every part of our community, including physician practices,” Jones said. “In accordance with Gov. Abbott’s stay-at-home order and directive to suspend all non-urgent surgeries and procedure, visits to physician offices and our hospital drastically decreased. Even with these orders lifted, many patients are delaying care.”

Heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest symptoms are always urgent so call 911 without hesitation, Jones said. “Emergency workers know what to do to protect and care for you,” Jones said. “Emergencies don’t stop for COVID-19. Safety remains our hospital’s highest priority and we have taken action to enhance infection prevention, restrict access to the facility and support social distancing to maintain a safe environment for patients who need medical care.”

Patients who delayed surgery or other non-emergency procedures can now work with their physicians to schedule necessary care as Brownwood Regional Medical Center resumes most outpatient elective procedures, surgeries and diagnostic studies beginning June 1, Jones said.

“As we begin to reopen services, we remain diligent in our fight against COVID-19,” Jones said. “COVID-19 will be part of our environment for the foreseeable future so we need to function as COVID-19 safe as opposed to COVID-free.”

Patients may be hesitant to come to the hospital or other healthcare sites as they remain fearful of exposure to COVID-19, Jones said.

“BRMC has taken actions to maintain a safe environment of care and want to assure the consumer with confidence we are ready to resume services,” Jones said.

Two COVID-19 patients have received hospital care from the BRMC team during this time, Jones said.

“As our community begins to reopen parks and businesses, it is important for residents to put their health first,” Jones said. “Those in our community have done a remarkable job to help limit the spread of COVID-19 by sheltering-in-place, and we urge them to continue to follow CDC guidelines for protecting yourself and others in community settings. “Practice social distancing, wear a cloth face covering that covers your nose and mouth, wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.  Stay home if you are sick, but don’t delay your important health care needs.”

With the many unknowns related to COVID-19, it is too soon to speculate on the safety precautions that may still be in place six months down the road, Jones said. “Regardless, Brownwood Regional Medical Center will be prepared to care for patients with COVID-19 and patients who have other medical conditions that require treatment,” Jones said.

COVID has impacted BRMC in a way that has brought many positive changes, Jones said. “We have dug deep in to our challenges,” he said. “We have pulled together with great strength to accomplish what was set before us. From building temporary walls to cross training staff to assist in areas needed. We have developed much more appreciation for each of our co-workers and departments.

“The medical staff has been wonderful to assist us in all that we have asked and has shared information to their patients the importance of not spreading the virus. Many physicians have provided telehealth visits when possible.”

BRMC is “a stronger healthcare team of employees because of this challenge,” Jones said. “BRMC has not done this alone. The community has come to our aid with providing meals, snacks, creating and sewing needed isolation gowns, providing sewn facemasks and by encouraging us and showing appreciation to our staff.

“To the community we want say thank you for understanding the necessary mandates of not allowing visitors. We know the difficulty of not being able to see your loved ones during their medical crisis. Please know that mandate has been difficult for us also because we are not able to accommodate visitors.”

Hendrick Health System has signed agreements to purchase BRMC as well as the Abilene Regional Medical Center. Hendrick’s presence is continuing to grow in Brownwood, and plans to build an urgent care facility on Commerce that will open in the summer of 2021.