By Bill Spinks
The COVID-19 pandemic was the complete focus of local health care facilities throughout the spring as the virus pounded on Ellis County’s door. Fortunately, the disease has so far only slipped in through a few cracks.
Now that President Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have encouraged the nation and state to reopen, local hospitals and clinics are emerging from a two-month shutdown and are already resuming some services. The pandemic has hit the county’s nursing homes the hardest, however, with as many as eight deaths at one facility.
As of May 18, the virus had caused 271 illnesses in the county and 12 deaths. More than 184 had recovered, including the county’s very first patient, a Maypearl woman who was first declared a presumptive positive on March 17.
The county’s largest hospital, Baylor Scott & White Waxahachie, has opened the door for a return to operating normally.
“State restrictions that were previously placed on certain surgeries and procedures have been lifted, paving the way for patients to begin receiving needed care that had been postponed,” BS&W said in a statement. “As such, we are safely beginning to care for patients balancing the importance of slowing the spread of COVID-19, managing hospital capacity and conserving personal protective equipment (PPE). We are also resuming in-person care in our clinics while continuing to offer virtual care options.”
On May 12, BS&W announced that it would allow one visitor per day for non-COVID patients, a relaxation of its previous policy. Restrictions for visitation of COVID patients remained in effect, with few exceptions.
BS&W said it continues to keep patients, visitors and caregivers safe through mandatory mask protection and screening at entry points.
Ennis Regional Medical Center has already taken steps toward resuming its normal operations. On May 4, ERMC announced that it would resume some elective non-urgent surgeries and procedures.
“Resuming these important services is an essential component of meeting our community’s health needs and advancing our mission of Making Communities Healthier,” said Robert Rupp, chief executive officer of ERMC. “As this work gradually gets underway in our hospital again, we remain committed to conserving critical supplies, being vigilant in our fight against COVID-19, and ensuring that our facility is a safe place for all patients, providers and employees.”
Methodist Mansfield Medical Center, which is serving Midlothian until a new state-of-the-art Methodist hospital opens in that city later this year, is likewise emerging on the other side of the state’s restrictions.
“Methodist Health System is resuming non-essential surgeries in a phased approach,” said Ryan Owens, a Methodist Health System spokesman. “We are testing patients for COVID-19 before operating. This phased approach will allow us to ensure we have the appropriate number of tests, as well as the correct amount of PPE, to mitigate as much risk as possible for our patients, physicians, and staff. We encourage our patients to check with their physicians for more details in the coming days as well as the dedicated COVID-19 page on MethodistHealthSystem.org.”
Care facilities for the elderly and infirm have been among the hot spots for COVID-19, not only across the nation but also in Ellis County. The pandemic shows no signs of letting up with this population, and no thought has been given to throwing the doors open at this time.
In Gov. Abbott’s executive order on April 22, nursing homes, state supported living centers, assisted living facilities, and long-term care facilities must remain closed to visitors unless to provide critical assistance. The governor later directed local health institutions on May 11 to test 100 percent of residents and staff in Texas nursing homes.
But for many of these facilities, the horse left the barn weeks ago.
At one facility, Legend Oaks Health Care and Rehabilitation in Waxahachie, the struggle with the disease continues; at least eight of its residents have died from the virus as of the middle of May. On May 11, local officials said a 70-year-old woman who lived at Legend Oaks died of the virus.
Legend Oaks announced a broad mitigation program back on March 15, limiting visitors and monitoring staff. However, even those measures were unable to prevent the outbreak.
Some senior living facilities are farther along the path when it comes to reopening. At Brookdale Senior Living in Waxahachie, which offers both independent and assisted living, leaders are already beginning to slowly roll back some of the restrictions while keeping others in place.
“We’ve been through a lot, and it’s been hard. It’s been really hard. And we need some time to come to terms with all that’s happened over the last couple of months at work and at home,” said Cindy Baier, Brookdale’s president and CEO. “Each of us is processing everything that has happened in our own different ways, and that will continue.”
Brookdale’s president of senior living, Cindy Kent, described the return from COVID-19 not as a light switch that can be turned off, but rather as a dimmer switch that gets turned down gradually.
“Our response to COVID-19 has been intense and thorough,” Kent said. “The dimming process has actually already started. We’re in a much different place as a company than we were even a month ago. We’ve established processes and protocols that are becoming part of our DNA. And we will continue to keep our residents, patients and associates as safe as possible even as we start entering this new normal state.”
There are dozens of family clinics, dentistries, optometrists, specialists and other practices in Ellis County. Many of them closed their doors and canceled appointments as stay-at-home restrictions were put in place, but some of them have been allowed to reopen with strict rules in place.
Baylor Scott & White Family Medical Center in Midlothian is now open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Dr. David Winter of BS&W outlined the safety measures put in place. These include COVID-19 testing where deemed appropriate; use of virtual waiting rooms for patients and loved ones to reduce time spent in common areas; masking of all patients, approved visitors and staff; enhanced leaning and touch-free protocols; and COVID-19 home monitoring digital care for those diagnosed with the virus.
“The health and safety of our patients and team members continue to be our top priority,” Winter said. “These new preventive measures and innovative offerings are designed to protect patients and team members across the state.”
Hope Clinic in Waxahachie, which provides health care to those who are medially underserved, also is taking steps to protect patients and staff. All patients over 1 year of age must ewear masks or face coverings when entering the clinic, and the clinic’s hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Hope Clinic’s dental department is closed at this time, and all behavioral health appointments are currently being conducted via phone or video.
A number of dentists in the county are also beginning to reopen after the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners issued stringent guidelines in response to Gov. Abbott’s executive order on April 30.
Along with other existing requirements, dentists must establish a protocol for screening of patients and dental health care personnel for COVID-19 and must take steps to prevent the spread such as removing magazines and other objects in the waiting room and spacing out appointment times to reduce the possibility of contact in the waiting room.
An often-overlooked aspect of public health is the presence of public gymnasiums, which exist to allow people to stay physically fit and maintain a healthy weight.
The statewide measures to combat COVID-19 forced the closure of places to work out, but most of those have been reopening with protective measures. Gov. Abbott allowed gyms to reopen on May 18 and after a two-month shutdown, Main Street Gym in Midlothian reopened on that day.
Among the precautions mandated in reopening, Main Street members must wear full-finger gloves, maintain six-foot social distancing, disinfect all equipment after use, and stay home if sick or showing symptoms of possible COVID-19.
The gym’s locker room and showers will remain closed, although restrooms may remain open, and hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are being provided. The gym will be open for normal hours but will close from noon to 1 p.m. on weekdays for detailed cleaning and sanitizing.
Also in Midlothian, Swink Athletics reopened on May 18 with the Facebook announcement, “WE. ARE. BACK!”
Andre Jones, the owner of Swink Athletics, said his gym closed before any shutdowns were ordered and took measures early in the pandemic to keep customers engaged. During the closure, the gym put together a group Facebook page for the community and is posting recorded workouts on the page with videos. The workouts are available on Facebook under the name Swink Community, and also at swinkathletics.com.
Gold’s Gym in Waxahachie reopened before the crack of dawn at 5 a.m. on May 18, and is back in operation with the hours of 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. Each day, the gym will close for one hour at 1 p.m. for cleaning and disinfecting.
However, Anytime Fitness in Waxahachie will keep its gym closed for the time being, according to the gym’s website. An attempt to contact the location by phone was unsuccessful.