How a Mission Viejo hospital is preparing for a public health crisis like novel coronavirus

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. (KABC) -- Health officials at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo say they're always prepared for a public health crisis - everything from Ebola to SARS to novel coronavirus.

"From a hospital perspective, we take this very seriously because this could be a disaster for a hospital if it wasn't dealt with correctly," said emergency physician Jim Keany.

The hospital has specific and rigorous prevention protocols in place at its emergency room when it comes to infections.

"When you walk through the door, you're greeted first by a rapid assessment nurse - and that's on a normal day. That nurse will determine that you may have a respiratory illness and hand you a mask," he said.

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That way, they reduce the chances of it spreading to anyone in the waiting room or hospital staff.

"Then, we bring people back to a room, we have negative air pressure rooms and what that means is, the air does not leave the room. It is actually sucked through a HEPA filter inside the room and does not escape," Keany said.

Right now, only certain patients are tested for novel coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19.

"If we have people who meet the criteria set by the county health department, we submit those samples to the health department and they get them tested," he said.

The hospital recently had a suspected coronavirus case that turned out to be negative. Officials say it gave them an opportunity to put response plans in place, including a chance to look over necessary supplies.

Following Orange County's declaration of a local health emergency on Wednesday in response to the virus, county health officer Nichole Quick said it will increase its "local surveillance," meaning residents who go to hospitals with flu-like symptoms will also be tested for the virus.

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Soon, Keany said, the hospital hopes to have test kits to speed up the process. In the meantime, the hospital and the health system it belongs to, Providence Health, are keeping a close on the situation to see how it develops.

"We have a cache of equipment that is specifically made for disaster response that can be used for this. We have a tent that we can set up so we have the ability to address surge capacity," he said.

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