Medical staff of the Southeast Hospital in Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico, take a group photo with Urgent Care Dr. Birzabit Cabrera, who recently recovered from COVID-19. Dr. Cabrera was among 48 hospital staff employees who tested positive for COVID-19 and had to recover at home. The hospital had to tighten up on preventive procedures and adjust work schedules to flatten the curve of the rising positive cases in Tabasco. [Photo: Courtesy of Southeast Hospital]

September 18, 2020 | Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico | Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

When employees at the Southeast Hospital, an Adventist healthcare institution in Villahermosa, Tabasco, Mexico, began testing positive for COVID-19, management had to tighten operational procedures to flatten the Coronavirus curve and somehow continue to provide non-Covid medical care to a community hit hard by the pandemic.

“Our state of Tabasco kept moving between the fifth and third places at the national level with the number of positive cases of COVID-19, and for us it meant 23 percent of our staff were affected,” said Alexis Pérez, administrator of the Southeast Hospital (or Hospital del Sureste).

Rise of COVID-19 cases

As of Sep. 15, more than 28,800 positive cases and 2,620 deaths have been reported in Tabasco.

Hospital del Sureste is an Adventist health institution established in 1975 that serves a large community in the city of Villahermosa, in the State of Tabasco, in South Mexico. [Photo: Southeast Hospital]

Forty-eight employees, including Perez and Robert González, the financial director of the hospital, had to be quarantined for three weeks or more from early April to August, according to Pérez. “Our hospital had never faced such a challenge where we had to move fast to protect all employees and patients coming in,” said Pérez.

The hospital, which is classified as a facility that does not treat COVID-19 cases, has a triage area to screen for COVID-19 symptoms. Any patients with such symptoms are sent home to rest or directed to one of the appropriate medical centers for treatment.

Something had to be done to protect the dozens of hospital staff while regular visits and surgeries decreased in the months of lockdown that began in April. New patients sent by overwhelmed hospitals began to seek regular medical services at the Southeast Hospital, needing additional coordination, said Pérez.

Southeast Hospital Administrators from L-R: Dr. Alberto Reyes, medical director, Alexis Pérez, administrator, and Robert González, financial director, pose for a photo. Pérez and González tested positive for COVID-19 and had to recover and quarantine at home for three weeks while managing the operations of the hospital  [File Photo: Southeast Hospital]

Studying the reasons why and moving ahead

“We sat down to document and analyze the positive cases in our hospital and we concluded that many of the infections outside of the institution in the general activities in their communities with friends or family members contributed in the spread the virus,” explained Pérez. The hospital moved into increased preventive measures, including the washing of hands, sanitizing areas, correct use of personal protective gear for each department of the hospital, and the like.

Initially the fear of the pandemic reduced the number of surgeries that the hospital usually performs, said Pérez. The hospital sees approximately 1,800 in-patients and 7,000 out-patients in urgent care on average every year.

Employees were switched to reduced work days of 12-hour shifts so they could have the public transit restricted to early hours in the morning and early evening every day. Within five months, 379 patients have gone through the special triage set up at the hospital, and none of the 208 hospital staff and employees lost their jobs through the those toughest months, said Pérez.

Floor nurses hold on to a box of personal protective equipment and supplies earlier in March. [Photo: Southeast Hospital]

There is fear of another wave of the Coronavirus resurgence, but there are still patients needing healing and care, said Pérez. “Our task is to continue in the mission of offering a wholistic health service that restores the image of God in our fellow men as our mission statement reads.” Pérez explained that 95 percent of the staff is made up of Seventh-day Adventists, and the hospital is known for its quality Christian care in the community.

In the 20 years he has been working in the Adventist system of schools and healthcare institutions, Pérez has never seen such a challenge and opportunity to better manage a healthcare institution. It is his third year as administrator of the hospital.

When he was recovering at home for three weeks with COVID-19 symptoms, he didn’t stop holding meetings by phone.

Two technicians stand with their protective gear in front of the radiology/imaging center of the hospital. [Photo: Southeast Hospital]

Trusting God during the crisis

“I began my employment with the church right here in this hospital 20 years ago as an accountant, and feel a sense of commitment and love toward God and this hospital as I’ve seen it grow throughout the years, especially through the trials the pandemic has brought,” said Pérez. “We are thankful none of the hospital employees were severely affected by the Coronavirus. Some still deal with the effects of the virus but there are currently no employees with COVID-19. Our last affected employee tested negative this week and is back at work.”

“What’s most important in this crisis is to trust in God and value our human resources who keep providing the healthcare service that every patient needs,” said Pérez.

As a result of the extra preventive and safety measures, costs for services have risen as the process of patient care has multiplied, but it’s not about keeping a business afloat so much as sticking to the mission of serving every patient with Christian love, added Pérez.

A prayer is offered by Hospital Chaplain Pastor Roger Pech (left), next to Robert González, hospital financial director during an evening Bible reading marathon held July 3-4, 2020, from Friday 6 p.m. to Saturday, 6 p.m. [Photo: Southeast Hospital]

The hospital continues to maintain a close relationship with the state health authorities in a collaborative effort with a group of local hospitals and more, said Pérez. “We are on alert in case there is a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the city and feel better prepared to deal with the challenges that it may bring.”

Plans for expansion

Plans for Southeast Hospital include converting a vacant multi-storey office into a medical office for physicians, a wound care center, physiotherapy area and nephrology center with four dialysis machines.

Southeast Hospital was established in 1975 and is an Adventist institution overseen by the Southeast Mexican Union. It has 32 beds and offers services in internal medicine, traumatology, gastroenterology, diagnostic services, such as clinical laboratory and more.

A group of the janitorial staff meets during a demonstration on how to properly use personal protective gear in certain areas of the hospital. [Photo: Southeast Hospital]

To find out more about the Southeast Hospital, Click HERE

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