By Rebecca Jones

New Center Provides COVID-19 Testing

Team works together to take care of the community

The University of New Mexico Hospital is home to a new center specially designed to rapidly triage and test for COVID-19. The Respiratory Care Center (RCC) tests people with and without symptoms of the coronavirus, as well as patients who are on their way to surgery.

It's housed in a large white tent stationed just outside of the hospital's main entrance and inside an adjacent conference room. The health care staff working here have volunteered to do so, says Tatsuya Norii, MD, an emergency department director who leads the RCC operations.

The center is so busy - testing 150 to 250 people a day - that more employees are needed to volunteer for some shifts. Norii hopes to entice additional hospital staff to work on the front lines due to the great demand for testing.

"This a great place to work and we have an excellent team," he says.

Jennifer M. Gibbs, director of Inpatient Advanced Practice Providers for several hospital departments, including the RCC, agrees.

"There's a very special team that's chosen to work in the Respiratory Care Center," Gibbs says. "They're from many different disciplines - dermatologists, ophthamologists and pathologists, inpatient providers - coming together in a time when they wouldn't usually work together. It's a nice, cohesive team."

Working at the RCC is especially rewarding because of the service it provides, she says. "These people have really stepped up to the plate to really take care of the community," Gibbs says. "I think it's be the best project I've ever worked on."

The RCC is also led by Adam Crosby, Karen Ellingboe and Brian Long.

What's it like inside the RCC?

Health care providers change from their street clothes into head-to-toe scrubs and coverings, from the bouffants covering their hair, to their shoe coverings. Gibbs quips she looks like a marshmallow with goggles.

Patients who go in for a test might be surprised at the noise level in the RCC, where special filters purify the air to "suck up the virus," Gibbs says.

The indoor conference room is reserved for patients with COVID-19 symptoms. Testing is open to anyone and only takes about 10 minutes from registration to discharge for asymptomatic patients. The RCC doesn't conduct testing to screen for antibodies because we do not know yet if having antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 can protect someone from getting infected again or, if they do, how long this protection might last, Torii adds.

"As providers, we wait for the patient to get checked in and update their info," Gibbs says. "We've been encouraging people to use the patient portal. They get triaged and assessed to make sure they don't need the emergency room."

Prescriptions are sent to the patients' pharmacy as needed. "We have a huge team of follow-up staff who let patients know they're negative," Gibbs says. If a patient is registered on the portal, they can print up their results to show to an employer.

"If they're positive, we have retired ER physicians to put patients at ease," she explains. "Lots of questions are out there, and there's a lot information on internet, so making sure patients have accurate info is helpful."

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