JRMC CEO shares insights during COVID-19

Eric Briesemeister

JRMC has seen patients in Jones County who have tested positive for COVID-19. CEO Eric Briesemeister said staff is prepared for an influx of patients, if that time comes. He also praised the staff for their hard work and dedication in a time like this. (Photo by Pete Temple)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     With 10 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus in Jones County (as of April 13), you can bet some of those individuals have been seen by medical personnel at UnityPoint Health – Jones Regional Medical Center.

     JRMC CEO Eric Briesemeister said yes, they have had patients come in with COVID-19. They’ve also tested people who have reported to be positive.

     “We are able to do the testing here,” he said.

     Those suspected of having COVID-19 are asked to enter through the ED (emergency department), or the main entrance where you will be screened.

     Briesemeister said the pace at which the COVID-19 test results come back varies. At first, it only took a few days. Then, it was a couple of days. Now, he said, it’s more like four days.

     “It depends on the capacity of testing,” he said. “The whole world it doing this now.”

     JRMC does have the capabilities and staff to treat COVID-19 patients. However, Briesemeister said those patients who require use of a ventilator are transferred to Cedar Rapids or Iowa City.

     “Those facilities deal with that level of care more frequently,” he said. “But a lot of (COVID-19) patients need oxygen and we can certainly do that.” Briesemeister explained it’s important to keep as many Jones County patients in Jones County to save those critical beds in other facilities free for those who need them, the most critically ill patients.

     JRMC averages about eight in-patients; a census of 16, plus or minus, could be seen as a surge in COVID-19 patients.

     “They would require different needs and precautions,” explained Briesemeister. “It would certainly increase our efforts.”

     JRMC has not witnessed such a surge, but staff have been trained and drilled for such an incident.

     “Were continually developing our plans to expand staffing if we need to,” shared Briesemeister.

     JRMC can hold up to 30 in-patients. All staffing has been closed down for non-essential services and departments.

     “We’re already operating as urgent care,” added Briesemeister. “Staff in other areas have been reassigned; our clinics are not as busy.”

     These steps, JRMC was already taking before Gov. Kim Reynolds issued the suspension of all non-essential medical services. Their out-patient services were also limited to only the most critical.

     Any staff member who comes into contact or deals directly with a COVID-19 patient is required to wear proper PPE (personal protective equipment) throughout the entire process of caring of that patient.

     Those with direct-patient contact are required to wear their “street clothes” in and out of the hospital. Once they arrive at work, they put on a pair of fresh scrubs for the day.

     “They are not allowed to take their scrubs home,” stipulated Briesemeister.

     Staff can also shower at the hospital before returning home if they choose.

     Briesemeister confirmed a shortage of PPE in Jones County, working with Brenda Leonard, Emergency Management, to help secure those needs.

     “We’re being creative in our use to extend our PPE,” said Briesemeister.

     He praised Leonard as “fantastic resource” for her help throughout the process.

     “There is a shortage nationwide,” he said. “What we ask for, we’re not given the full allotment.”

     So many people throughout the county have been donating PPE to the hospital, which Briesemeister said has been an incredible gesture of kindness.

     “The community has been so incredible supportive,” thanked Briesemeister.

     The homemade masks that have been donated are worn by medical staff who are not coming into direct contact with a COVID-19 patient.

     In addition to homemade PPE, the public has also been dropping off for the staff.

     “It’s all so humbling,” continued Briesemeister. “People contact us every day wanting to know how they can help.”

     The JRMC Foundation has organized a monetary fund to assist those employees who are dealing with financial difficulties during this tough time, perhaps because a spouse has been laid off.

     Briesemeister believes living in a rural county is in people’s favor here, with rural county COVID-19 counts remaining fairly low.

     “The population density is in our favor here,” he said.

     These unprecedented times are unlike anything Briesemeister or JRMC ever thought they’d witness.

     “This isn’t something you’re normally prepared for,” said Briesemeister. “It’s hard to imagine.”

     Above all, JRMC is prepared for an influx of COVID-19 patients if that does occur.

     “We’re working hard to do as much as humanly possible,” Briesemeister said.

     In addition to the physical health of people, Briesemeister said this situation is also bringing about an increase in mental health and well being. JRMC has been offering resources to the staff to deal with those feelings.

     “Isolation right now is real,” he said. “As human beings, we’re never meant to be alone for such a long time like this. Make sure you reach out for help.”

     Finally, Briesemeister said the staff and physicians at JRMC deserve more praise than anything right now. “They are fantastic! I could not ask to work with better human beings. I couldn’t be prouder; these are the real heroes. They really are!”


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