Rebuilding America: WNC hasn’t seen COVID-19 surge, but hospitals aren’t back to normal – Citizen Times


While North Carolina phases reopening restaurants, salons, and larger gatherings, several COVID-19 protocols remain at Mission Health, even though it hasn’t seen the expected surge.

Policies still restrict all visitors, except for labor and delivery or pediatric patients who are allowed one visitor at a time. Mission employees in patient care areas are still required to wear masks, and each Mission hospital employee is screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival.

When the coronavirus turned into a pandemic and case numbers shot up nationwide, Mission Health braced for its own COVID-19 patient surge.

In late March, Mission postponed most elective surgeries and limited most visitors in preparation. In early April, the regional healthcare system erected tents outside its hospital emergency rooms in case more space was needed to treat future patient influxes.

Yet this anticipated patient surge hasn’t been seen in Western North Carolina. On April 24, Mission removed these emergency tents, assessing they were no longer needed.

In a press release announcing the tents’ removal, Senior Vice President for the North Carolina Division of HCA Healthcare Kathy Guyette said, “Fortunately, we have not yet seen widespread transmission of COVID-19 at this point in our community or a surge in our hospitals.”

In early May, Mission resumed  elective surgeries, starting with procedures that had been delayed or canceled during the initial weeks of the coronavirus outbreak.

  • As of May 20, Mission confirmed eight positive COVID-19 cases at its flagship Mission Hospital.

  • In early May, Mission resumed many postponed elective surgeries.

  • Policies still restrict most visitors. Only labor and delivery or pediatric patients are allowed visitors (one at a time). 

Mission Health is the region’s largest health care provider, with six hospitals: Mission Hospital, Transylvania Regional Hospital, Mission Hospital McDowell, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital, Angel Medical Center and Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, and numerous clinics throughout Western North Carolina. In late March, Mission reported having 1,091 available patient beds.  

As of May 20, Mission confirmed eight positive COVID-19 cases at its flagship Mission Hospital, with none in the surrounding five regional hospitals. This is double the number of cases Mission reported on April 30, but still well below levels that would stress the system’s bed capacity. 

Alarmingly low heart attack and stroke patient levels

Despite fewer than anticipated COVID-19 patients, area hospital leaders say people may be getting sicker and even dying out of fear of going to hospitals during the virus outbreak. This poses a problem, area health care providers say, after accidents, heart attacks and strokes, when essential hours and days may be wasted if individuals delay necessary trips to seek care.

“We have had patients tell us that the symptoms would start, and they were afraid to come to the hospital because they heard the messaging that you don’t want to come to the hospital during this period of time because you don’t want to expose yourself to a virus,” said Robin Jones, manager of the stroke program at Mission. “And so, they stay home out of fear.”

On an average month, Jones said the hospital treats around 60 emergency stroke patients, but that number dipped to 38 in March. She said total stroke discharges were much lower too, and Mission’s heart department says their patient volumes have plummeted.

“Here at Mission, I started noticing at the beginning of March a significant decrease in patients coming,” said Angela Solesbee, STEMI coordinator at Mission Hospital. “I’ve seen patients that are hiding out in their homes for two, three, five to seven days. Their fear is so heightened.”

Lower patient counts have also been seen at other area hospitals.

“We certainly see a decrease in hospital census,” said Dr. Greg McCarty, chief of medical staff at Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville. “We see a decrease in the emergency department volumes by about 50% since basically the middle of March. And we certainly see a drop in our cardiac patients.”

Area health care providers said their facilities are safe and open for vital treatments.

“We are prepared to care for you,” Jones said. “We have protocols in place to implement if need be if someone does come to the hospital that we suspect of having the virus. Then we have protocols in place to care for that patient safely, so that it does not affect other patients or ourselves.”

Brian Gordon is the education and social issues reporter for the Citizen Times. He’s won awards for stories on schools and guinea pigs. Reach him at or on Twitter @briansamuel92.

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