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Cliff Williams / The Outlook Russell Medical staff were at The Mill Two Eighty Tuesday morning to administer COVID-19 tests to patients as cases mount in the area.

Russell Medical is adapting its facilities to accommodate increasing COVID-19 cases.

Overnight Monday Russell Medical converted one of its buildings to a drive-thru testing center as patients seeking COVID-19 tests and treatment fill its facilities. It is one of many changes management has been planning over the last week.

“We have continually been planning,” Russell Medical director of marketing Susan Foy said. “Our management team met Saturday and again Sunday via teleconference as we saw more patients seeking testing. Monday we started to put together the plan and it will continue to evolve as needed going forward.”

Russell Medical management met almost daily in the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those meetings were reduced to twice a week but not now.

“We have resumed our daily incident command calls,” Foy said.

In the last week Russell Medical Urgent has seen its parking lot filled with patients waiting in cars to be tested, at times waiting up to three hours. Foy said the positivity rate has been steadily climbing to about 24%.

To meet the increased demand for COVID-19 testing, Russell moved its testing from the urgent care 100 yards to The Mill Two Eighty. Contractors removed a curb at the event center to allow automobiles to easily drive under the overhang.

Tuesday morning Russell Medical staff were there to greet patients seeking testing. Patients remained in their cars providing information and waiting for the results in the parking lot. Tuesday morning wait times were less than 15 minutes. The drive-thru testing is open Monday through Friday.

But moving the testing from its urgent care isn’t the only change at Russell Medical.

“We have suspended elective procedures for the foreseeable future,” Foy said. “We are seeing an increase in demand for testing and in the positivity rate in this surge. We are doing everything to prepare to meet our patients needs for the whole hospital.”

Russell Medical has returned a tent to the entrance of the hospital’s emergency department.

“We are doing it to move some of the triage and extra screening that needs to be done to relieve some things in the emergency department,” Foy said. “We are also moving the monoclonal antibody treatment upstairs. The treatments require about a 1-hour infusion and then another hour or so of monitoring. We have been doing those treatments in the emergency department.”

Russell Medical senior director of facilities Mike McCaleb was involved in creating the drive-thru testing center. McCaleb and his team are also involved in moving the monoclonal antibody treatment upstairs in the hospital where there is a wing not being used.

“We have to create negative pressure rooms,” McCaleb said. “We are required to change the air out at least 13 times per hour where a patient with a disease is at.”

McCaleb said rooms with exterior walls are great because it is easier to move the filtered air out of the building.

“But it creates issues of where to get the makeup air,” McCaleb said.

The intensive care unit at Russell Medical has been mostly full for the last month. Foy said the hospital has been able to manage with its six ICU beds as patients improve. Foy said last week the ICU was full with six patients and five were COVID-19 positive on ventilators.

Russell Medical is establishing more ICU beds like it did at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We are preparing for an anticipated surge,” Foy said. “We are standing up more.”

Alabama hospitals currently have more than 3,000 patients in its hospitals with the virus and very few ICU beds available.

Since March, Russell Medical has reported 34 COVID-19 related deaths at its facility. East Alabama Medical Center has reported 139 deaths at its Opelika and Valley facilities — nine of those were Tallapoosa County residents. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) Tuesday, Alabama is quickly approaching 5,000 deaths due to COVID-19 with 98 Tallapoosa County residents dying from COVID-19.

ADPH reported Tuesday a total of 2,464 positive cases in Tallapoosa County of COVID-19 since March and 257 in the last two weeks, 46 new cases alone on Monday.

Buffy Colvin is a respiratory therapist at Russell Medical and is the Alexander City City Council president. Colvin is back to work after contracting COVID-19 in November. She even had a stay in Russell Medical’s ICU unit.

“We have to remain vigilant in wearing masks and social distancing,” Colvin said at Monday’s city council meeting. “It’s bad. The surge we are seeing now is from Thanksgiving. We have got to follow the protocols or it is just going to get worse.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.