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WNC field hospital increases capacity; COVID19 hospitalizations begin to stabilize

The Emergency Field Hospital has opened in Lenoir, North Carolina, and the Samaritan’s Purse medical team is treating patients from surrounding Western North Carolina communities. Officials at the hospital stated that they expect a steady influx of patients to arrive as they help six regional healthcare systems respond to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

As of 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 27, there are 130 lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 patients in Mission Health system; 93 at Mission Hospital; 9 at Angel Medical Center; 4 at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital; 1 at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital; 11 at Mission Hospital McDowell; 12 at Transylvania Regional Hospital.

HCA is not one of the six-hospital systems partnering with Samaritan’s Purse, however, patients across WNC have been utilizing the field hospital in Lenior. The hospital treats patients from any of the six healthcare systems — regardless of the individual’s home county.

Originally the Lenior location was set up to help five healthcare systems in WNC reaching capacity, but due to an influx of COVID19 cases in the region, Samaritan’s Purse upped the capacity at the field hospital on January 18 to serve a sixth healthcare system. 

“These hospitals have come to us for help because they are full, and case numbers continue to rise,” said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse. “This is our home state, and we appreciate the frontline workers battling COVID day in and day out. We are glad that we can be there to help lift the load. Our medical team is going to help provide professional, compassionate, and quality care to every patient who is sent to us.”

Laura Easton, president, and CEO of Caldwell UNC Health Care, said the recent jump in COVID-19 cases is already pushing the medical center past capacity.

“All of our staff have really been putting in 110 percent. For example, in our hospital, we normally have about 55 patients each day, and today we have 107. We are absolutely at double capacity which means our staff is all working overtime in non-traditional settings taking care of patients.”

The mobile unit is staffed by a team of disaster relief personnel, including doctors, nurses, and other healthcare specialists. Patients receiving treatment are limited to those who are COVID-positive but do not need the support of a ventilator. At maximum capacity, the emergency field hospital staff can treat more than 100 patients, perform 15 to 25 surgeries daily, and function as a full hospital.

The field hospital was transported on New Year’s Day from a warehouse in North Wilkesboro via Samaritan’s Purse tractor-trailers. It sits on the grounds of Caldwell UNC Health Care, a site chosen for its central location.

Edward Graham, assistant to the vice president of programs and government relations for Samaritan’s Purse, traveled to Lenoir after supplies first arrived to encourage the team setting up the field hospital.

“Like the rest of the country and especially here in western North Carolina, COVID has ravaged the healthcare system,” he said while meeting with Samaritan’s Purse staff and leaders from local healthcare systems.

“Caldwell UNC Health Care reached out to Samaritan’s Purse about partnering and setting up one of our field hospitals, and that is what we are doing,” he said. “I’m so excited and encouraged to be here with our incredible medical teams. These are challenging times, but we are excited to be serving in the Name of Jesus Christ. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to love on our fellow neighbors here in North Carolina with great medical care and to do this to share the hope of Jesus Christ. We appreciate your prayers and support.”

Easton emphasized the importance of communities all working together during the COVID-19 crisis.

“This battle against COVID is really a community-wide and region-wide effort,” she said. “Now, with the arrival of Samaritan’s Purse and the personnel that they are bringing, this is a national effort. It takes all of us working together.”

One couple celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary at the tent hospital after both contracting COVID19. 

In nearly half a century of marriage, Wanda and Arnold never expected to celebrate their 49th anniversary in a tent hospital just minutes away from their home in Lenoir, North Carolina.

Shortly after Christmas, they began displaying severe symptoms, and they were diagnosed with the disease they’d feared for most of the year—COVID-19. Their symptoms grew more severe and concerning.

“I couldn’t quit coughing and just felt I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get breath,” Wanda said.

Arnold never coughed, but he felt generally terrible—unable to exactly pinpoint why he felt so sick. The couple visited the emergency room at Caldwell Memorial Hospital where they were admitted for care. Just a day or two later, they were transferred to the Samaritan’s Purse Emergency Field Hospital constructed just adjacent to the medical center.

As they struggled for more than two weeks through the difficult symptoms of COVID-19, Wanda and Arnold never doubted that they were being guided by the Lord’s hand. “It’s in God’s hands and I try to leave it up to God,” Arnold said. “My decisions aren’t going to do it—you try to do the best you can, but we are only human. God’s going to take care of us. No doubt about it.”

Arnold and Wanda were released from the hospital on Jan. 13.

Governor Roy Cooper held a press conference Wednesday afternoon and reported that state hospitalization data shows that numbers are beginning to level out, signifying NC is passed the holiday COVID19 surge. Governor Cooper extended the current stay-at-home order, however, he did not issue any additional restrictions.

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