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Erlanger Hospital CEO Talks Reopening Phases, Visitors Allowed June 11

Lilly Knoepp
Blue Ridge Public Radio
Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital is a nonprofit hospital. The Erlanger Health System is based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital in Murphy has announced that it will allow visitors starting June 11.


The hospital hosted a press Zoom call to announce the update. In March, the hospital barred all elective surgeries and visitors because of COVID-19. It began allowing elective procedures again in May. Patients will only be allowed one visitor at a time as the hospital continues to update COVID-19 protocols. The visitors will be asked a series of questions and have their temperature checked before entering the hospital. They must wear a mask while inside. 


“I know that it’s been very tough for a lot of patients and their families during this time. But we as an industry had to get comfortable with our restrictions in place to make sure that we can keep people safe and secure,” says Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital CEO Mark Kimball. Adding that there are always exceptions to the rule.


Kimball says that the hospital has seen increasing numbers of patients as North Carolina has slowly reopened. The state is currently in Phase 2 of Governor Cooper’s COVID-19 reopening plan. Kimball says that the hospital’s revenues are now at about 70 percent compared to pre-COVID. However, not all employees have been reinstated.  


“Our numbers, volumes and revenues are growing. But as you know employees are still furloughed  and it is simply a volume-based business,” says Kimball. “So as the demand for services continues to rise we will continue to bring people back to full time work.” 


In March, Chattanooga-based Erlanger Health announced systemwide that the company had lost 40 percent revenue because of COVID-19 restrictions. During this time, doctors have also taken a cut in pay which they expect to last until August. 


Kimball says that “a couple” staff members at the hospital contracted COVID-19 in recent months. Following the positive test, they quarantined until they received two negative COVID-19 tests in a row. 


He also says that only two patients in Cherokee County have been hospitalized because of the virus to date. 


Erlanger physician, Dr. Thomas Clayton was also on the Zoom call. He offered a number of COVID-19 medical recommendations. He recommends wearing a mask in public and says that people who have been at large gatherings - especially if you have been travelling - such as protests should think about getting tested. 


“Travel is very important. It’s one reason that we have been able to keep our numbers down. I think that people have been staying home, so to speak, and this has opened up the community somewhat. So it would be important to do that,” says Clayton. 


He says 3 to 4 days after exposure is the optimal time to get tested. 


As of Tuesday, there are 32 cases of COVID-19 in Cherokee County and one death. 

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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