mmc

This article is part of our series “COVID-19: 1 Year Later,” exploring the ways COVID-19 has affected and changed daily life over the last year. For two weeks, we surveyed our readers on how COVID-19 has affected them. Read our survey results here. Today, we are sharing an interview with Murfreesboro Medical Center.

Murfreesboro Medical Clinic got involved in helping the community with the coronavirus pandemic very quickly. Joey Peay, the CEO, shared his thoughts about what it was like when it all began, some of the changes they had to make in how they deliver their service to keep their patients safe and informed, and where they are today.

Rutherford Source: Tell us a little about MMC’s initial response to the news of the pandemic hitting Middle Tennessee.

Joey Peay: The initial reaction was to not allow people who have traveled or had a fever or any of the other possible COVID indications to even enter our building. We put “STOP” signs on our doors and began asking everyone about anything that could indicate that they may have the virus. Not the best way to attract customers with a large stop sign on the front door!

We began more enhanced cleaning of frequently touched surfaces throughout the day. We started requiring our staff to wear face coverings. There were so many unknown factors that fear and trepidation could have easily overtaken us. However, we formed a team – physicians, nurses, and administrative staff – to lead us through the uncertainty. That team still meets regularly to address changes and new situations as they arise.

Rutherford Source: MMC got involved early in doing COVID-19 screenings. What was that like?

Joey Peay: Scary! No, seriously, our staff really jumped into action to be able to address this need in our community. Our laboratory manager had the foresight as to what would probably happen and began ordering testing supplies long before there was a test available in the United States. Then, when the Quest test became available, we were well situated to begin testing.

Because we had a good store of supplies, we were able to share some of them with other organizations in the community like the Rutherford County Health Department (RCHD) and Middle Tennessee State University Medical Services. In conjunction with the RCHD, we were also able to begin offering drive-up testing for our community.

Seeing the fear and discomfort on the faces of some of the drive-up patients as they came through the testing line was very moving. There were some very sick individuals, and it makes me feel better as the head of a healthcare organization that we could help them get a test to confirm whether they were COVID positive or not.

Our lab manager also worked our vendors to secure rapid test kits early on. While the supply lines were a little shaky at first, we ultimately were able to offer three different types of rapid tests — Abbott, BD, and BioFire — as well as the Quest test. That helped tremendously to enable us to get a test result more quickly and get back to either work or school or just living life.

Rutherford Source: As the pandemic progressed, how did you have to change your delivery of medicine to compensate?

Joey Peay: Part of my frustration early on, and to some degree still today, is what we knew in March 2020 was not correct in April. What we knew in April was not correct in May. And so on and so on. That caused us to be creative with how we did things.

We began offering telehealth visits in some situations as appropriate. We looked at schedules and suggested some patients who may be at higher risk reschedule their visits if medically appropriate. We installed HEPA filters in several of our rooms where the likelihood of a COVID positive patient being treated was higher.

Early on, much care was deferred – especially among the most vulnerable population. It made sense for the elderly or those with underlying medical conditions to delay care to the extent possible. Also, early on, Governor Lee restricted elective surgeries. This essentially shut down our Ambulatory Surgery Center for about six weeks. We still did some cases that were necessary, but they were few and far between compared to our normal procedural volume.

However, much of the annual visits — physicals, well-child visits, etc. — have returned. Now what is lagging is sick visits, especially with children. There are not a lot of sick people right now.

Since many schools and daycares have been out of session, children have been kept apart and have not shared those normal childhood illnesses. Also, the flu season, originally feared to be devastating when coupled with COVID, has essentially been a non-event to this point with very few flu cases locally and nationally. Hopefully, that continues!

While we have maintained a social media presence for a number of years, COVID gave us an opportunity to capitalize on our social media postings to provide relevant information to our patients and the public. Our followers increased significantly as we posted that information over the past several months.

We are still learning as we go, and learn more about the nature of COVID. As I mentioned to someone the other day, “We figured it out!” We didn’t always have the right answer, but we were willing to listen to guidance from the health agencies as well as the extensive knowledge of the physicians within our group, and their membership organizations, to figure out what worked for us.

Rutherford Source: According to our survey, many respondents have become much more aware of self-care. Has that affected how you help your patients?

Joey Peay: I would contend that we all need to be aware of our health situation and monitor changes or subtle differences. That is why it is even more important that everyone establish a relationship with a primary care physician to work in tandem to manage his or her health. By having a physician who knows you and you trust, a vital partnership is created that will lead to better health outcomes in the long run. COVID just validated that point.

Rutherford Source: It has been a year, and we know healthcare workers are still doing long hours to help the sick. How are they holding up?

Joey Peay: While none of us ever thought of being on the frontlines of a situation like this, we were able to struggle through because our community needed us to be there. And they were there for us! The community support was amazing!

While we weren’t dodging bullets or bombs storming the beaches at Normandy, our staff members donned their uniforms daily to putting their own health and the health of their families on the line to care for those who needed care. Personally, I was extremely proud of our team and the great attitudes that they have maintained through some very trying times. I am honored to know and lead these physicians, nurses, and staff members. Their commitment to caring for patients has inspired me still to this day!

Rutherford Source: With vaccines more available, you are now a distribution point for COVID-19 vaccination. What was the process to become a vaccine location? How do those wanting a vaccine go about signing up at MMC?

Joey Peay: We started giving vaccines about a month ago. We originally signed up with the state to be a closed site – for our staff and family members only. When the state changed their methodology, we had to reapply and got approved. Our first shipment of vaccine was supposed to be delivered in the middle of February during the Snowmageddon event. We pushed it off a week and have been running vaccine clinics since then.

Those individuals interested in obtaining a vaccine can go to our website at www.mmclinic.com and follow the link to sign up. We work that list to get people on the schedule and in to get their shot as quickly as possible.

Rutherford Source: Anything else you want to share?

This has been one of the strangest years of my life. The emotion, the fear, the anxiety, the uncertainty, the list goes on and on! I came to grips with my own mortality early on in the process. It was a difficult realization to admit that I am high risk – older (not that old) with chronic health conditions. However, my personal epiphany came when I made peace with my Maker and resolved to help my organization, MMC, serve our community. Our community needed that leadership during a difficult stretch and we were able to step up. For that, I am truly thankful to be part of such a wonderful community and organization.

I encourage everyone to look for trusted sources of reliable information. There is so much “information” that has been put forth on social media or the internet that may not be accurate or tainted by political leanings. Find trusted sources and use them.

Everyone has to assess his or her own situation and make decisions accordingly. Some people are more comfortable others are less so.

We all need to love and support each other with as much grace as possible as life hopefully returns to something that could be considered normal.


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