Emergency department chair discusses safety measures and lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina taught Dr. Brett Wilson all about patience.
“It was such a large-scale event,” said Dr. Wilson, chair of the Emergency Department at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. “It was not going to go away in a couple hours. It was not going to go away in a couple days.”
Dr. Wilson, who helped relief efforts in New Orleans during the 2005 hurricane, told the News-Press that lessons about patience and communication have stuck with him during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, Dr. Wilson is stressing that hospitals remain safe places to visit while their staffs work with confirmed or potential COVID-19 patients.
Cottage Health is encouraging people not to postpone important care for various conditions during the pandemic. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 48% of Americans said they or someone in their household have delayed or skipped medical care because of the pandemic.
But Dr. Wilson said people can feel comfortable about visiting hospitals.
“The hospital is honestly one of the safest places you can be because people (patients and visitors) are getting masks when they come to the hospital,” Dr. Wilson said, noting that staff have worn masks and other protective gear.
“Because of all that, we’ve been really fortunate,” he said. “We haven’t had issues with healthcare providers getting exposed because of patients or patients getting it (COVID-19) from healthcare providers.
“We’re trying to limit the spread that is happening in the community,” he said. “That is where we are right now.”
Dr. Wilson, who also works in the Emergency Department at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, said emergency room patients are pre-screened outside the entrances at Cottage Health hospitals. “We do a temperature check. We go through a list of different, viral-like symptoms. If people have certain COVID-19-like symptoms, they get steered into a certain area.”
He said people are tested for COVID-19 with a cotton swab in the nose. “It’s not pleasant, but I think people would rather get a nose swab than a shot.”
Caution isn’t limited to the emergency departments. COVID-19 testing, in fact, is performed for every patient admitted to a Cottage Health hospital and for patients before a surgery or procedure, according to a news release. Visitors are limited to prevent exposure and maintain social distancing.
And specialized care units are used for patients with COVID-19, which are separate from those admitted for other conditions. There are specific precautions and negative airflow for infection prevention. Dr. Wilson explained there are isolation rooms with negative pressure so the air isn’t mixed with other rooms or other parts of the hospital.
He added that hospitals are following infection-control guidelines. He noted that Cottage Health’s environmental services and housekeeping teams are doing great work.
Surfaces are wiped down constantly.
“They are busy bees,” Dr. Wilson said. “They are some of our biggest heroes keeping this place safe and clean for everybody, employees as well as patients.”
Disinfectant procedures include ultraviolet light filtration on air handlers, Xenex UV light robots for room cleaning and routine monitoring of hand washing.
Dr. Wilson said the emergency departments at Cottage Health hospitals in Santa Barbara and Goleta share a staff of 38 physicians and six physician assistants.
The two departments have a total of about 75 nurses, split into teams located at the two hospitals, he said.
Dr. Wilson said his work during the pandemic has benefitted from lessons he learned during Hurricane Katrina.
During the disaster, he was a chief resident in his final year of training at Charity Hospital in New Orleans.
The hospital closed before the hurricane, so Dr. Wilson worked with the military to set up field hospitals and with others to establish community clinics. That’s where he learned the importance of communication during a disaster.
“It (Katrina) is still referenced in a lot of disaster planning because of how things happened and what we learned from it,” Dr. Wilson said. “Lessons learned from Katrina helped us through the Thomas Fire and the (Montecito) mudflow event in the ER and with this pandemic.
“When you have something that has an impact on a large number of people, you don’t have the resources on the local level for a long project,” Dr. Wilson said. “You need the federal government to help you. The county has been a great advocate for us on that level and has a good relationship with the state.”
The physician grew up in Goleta and graduated from Dos Pueblos High School in 1991. He earned his bachelor’s in biology in 1996 at UCSB and his medical degree in 2009 at Tulane Medical School in New Orleans. He completed his residency in 2006 through the Louisiana State University program at Charity Hospital, then completed a fellowship in diving medicine in 2007 at LSU.
Dr. Wilson, who’s married and has two daughters and a son (ages 10, 13 and 17), has been with Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital since 2007. He lives in Santa Barbara.
During the pandemic, Dr. Wilson has been impressed with the work by the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department and others in healthcare. He praised the positive relationships among Direct Relief in Goleta, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, Sansum Clinic, Cottage Health hospitals, Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria and Lompoc Valley Medical Center in Lompoc.
Dr. Wilson noted the importance of wearing masks in public, staying at least six feet from others and washing your hands.
“That triad is the best way you can mitigate spreading it or contacting it.”
For more information, go to cottagehealth.org.