A tent popped up in the parking lot of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center in downtown Brockton this week, giving the organization more space to deal with coronavirus testing and treatment.
BROCKTON – For the first time in its 28-year history, the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center is using a medical tent to start screening patients in its downtown parking lot, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s joining health care organizations all across the country that are expanding their facilities into outdoor spaces with tents to triage, test and treat people for the coronavirus, or to make more space for patients with other ailments.
“We’ve never had a tent before,” said Sue Joss, the longtime CEO of Brockton Neighborhood Health Center, reached on Tuesday afternoon. “Lots of organizations around the state are doing this, and even around the country. This is a virus of a magnitude we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. So people are getting creative.”
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Joss said the first floor of the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center at 63 Main St., which normally would be its urgent care department, was converted into a coronavirus care, testing and treatment center after the pandemic broke out. Joss said the tent was set up on Monday in the parking lot to provide additional, flexible space for screening, weeding out patients with more minor symptoms, allowing them to get tested and questioned about their symptoms, while also making sure the 16 exam rooms on the first floor are preserved for those with serious signs of exposure to the coronavirus.
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“The tent is going to help us be more efficient about that,” Joss said. “We have 16 exam rooms in urgent care. When we have a patient in that room who is a potential COVID patient, we need to see the patient and shut the room down for a certain period of time afterward so it can be cleaned. From an infection control perspective, there needs to be time for the particles to settle and all that. That means our rooms (on the first floor) can be tied up for a long time. We’re doing screening of everyone who walks through our doors … There are some people we identify as potentially exposed we could handle with a tent more quickly or efficiently.”
Joss said there’s enough space for two patients to be screened at a time in the tent.
“We’re looking at the quick patients,” she said.
The Brockton Neighborhood Health Center is testing dozens of people each day for the coronavirus. On Monday, for example, 95 people were tested there for the virus. Since the center began testing a few weeks ago, roughly 50 people there have been confirmed positive for the coronavirus, Joss said. Testing has increased a lot in the past week, with more symptomatic patients coming in. Joss said the tests are also coming back more quickly from Quest Diagnostics, now within a matter of two days or less, when before it three or four days.
The health center “still has capacity” to increase, Joss said, and is getting prepared for worse to come. She described this point as the “eye before the storm or the lull” before the storm.
“We feel we’ve done everything we need to be ready,” she said. “We’re just kind of waiting for what could be a really rapid increase at this point.”
When the coronavirus crisis first started, the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center went to “full incident command,” Joss said, meaning that it put a lot of its services on pause, canceling appoints for physicals, closing down dental and eye care clinics and preparing a transition to telehealth where possible. Brockton Neighborhood Health Center has more than 600 employees.
“The staff have been superheros, I would say,” Joss said. “People are stepping into roles they’ve never had before. They are coming into work knowing we have a very infectious virus in our community. The workload really varies a lot. There are some days it’s been so busy, and some other days in areas of the health center that are not busy at all, where we have the non-COVID patients, going to televisits and some being canceled until later. It’s really up and down. Some staff are doing jobs they never did before.”
As far as the availability of personal protective equipment, Joss said the downtown health center has a supply of surgical masks that can last eight to 10 days. Goggles and gowns are down to a five-day supply, she said. Joss said they’re looking for more from government stockpiles, but they’re also receiving donations from businesses, community organizations and, for example, Stonehill College, which recently provided a shipment of gloves.
“We haven’t run out of anything, but everyone is scrambling for supplies,” Joss said. “Health care providers that have closed their offices are donating. Even nail salons that are shut down have donated masks. It’s pretty impressive.”