Local doctors have formed a group to share supplies and information in anticipation of a possible surge in Manhattan-area coronavirus cases.

That group, three doctors said in a Monday interview with The Mercury, could involve things like one medical office sending surplus masks to another office if it’s running short.

Several independent medical offices in Manhattan, including Ascension Via Christi Hospital, Manhattan Surgical Hospital, K-State’s Lafene Health Center and the Riley County Health Department, discussed several times over the past few weeks about how to best care for patients during the pandemic.

The letter said these efforts led to the formation of a COVID-19 Clinical Task Force, with additional representatives from each primary care office in the city, anesthesia and subspecialty groups, emergency room physicians, dental offices, K-State, Irwin Army Community Hospital and the Meadowlark Hills Retirement Community.

Doctors said they formed the group, led by Dr. Hank Doering, general surgeon and chief of staff at Ascension Via Christi Hospital, and Dr. Matt Floersch, an internal medicine physician at CenterPointe Physicians and medical director at Meadowlark Hills, to sort through the vast and quickly-changing information regarding the virus and distribute that information to medical providers.

“We just need the ability to communicate often and frequently with each other in an organized fashion so that we can continue to move forward and do what we need to make sure that the health care needs of the community are met with this type of pandemic situation,” Doering said.

Julie Gibbs, director of the Riley County Health Department, added this collaboration is helpful to the health department to know where individual offices and facilities stand in terms of needs, as well as help everyone understand topics like the latest procedures and testing guidelines from the Kansas Department of Health and Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Doering said initial surveys were sent to everyone in the group to report their inventory, and the data is being organized to determine, for example, the number of available hospital beds, personal protective equipment and ventilators. Doering said he did not know the exact number of available beds at Via Christi but noted that it fluctuates each day and even the hour.

“All the resources that we have available are going to this effort right now,” he said.

Bob Copple, president and CEO of Ascension Via Christi, said in a Monday interview with KMAN that because the hospital is not performing elective surgeries it has fewer people staying at the hospital, freeing up beds. Copple said capacity is not a concern for the hospital right now.

Dr. Ryan Knopp, a family physician at Stonecreek Family Physician, said from Stonecreek’s standpoint, it is adequately stocked with items such as protective equipment, gowns and masks, but it is difficult to know how that will vary even one week from now as the situation is constantly evolving.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Friday said it was running low on test kits and nasal supplies, a problem healthcare officials are experiencing all over the country. Lee Norman, secretary of the department, said Monday that it received a few hundred kits over the weekend.

“We just don’t have the supplies to last indefinitely, so all of us are constantly trying to ascertain where we can get an influx of supplies,” Knopp said. “The beauty of this collaborative group is we’re at the level of sharing those resources with our community partners, so quite frankly if I’ve got an extra abundance of masks this week and I know a pediatric group doesn’t have any, I’m going to have my office manager take a few over there.”

The emergency operations center is looking to provide a potential drop-off point that residents can donate supplies like masks and hand sanitizer. Via Christi posted on social media that as the pandemic continues indefinitely, it will need isolation gowns, N95 and earloop masks, hand sanitizer, face shields and goggles, surface disinfectant, powered and controlled air purifying respirators and non-sterile box gloves. People can donate to the hospital or Wamego Health Center by contacting 785-458-7380 or 785-587-5462.

Knopp said doctors are aware there is such a thing as overwhelming the healthcare system, and that is why recommendations to practice social distancing, self-quarantining and regular hand hygiene are critical in “flattening the curve.” The term essentially means slowing the spread of the virus so severely ill people do not all come to hospitals at once.

Dr. Segen Chase, an internal medicine physician at CenterPointe Physicians, said area health care providers have taken several steps to ensure hospitals and offices are safe for patients to come in. She said they do not want people to not seek care if they are experiencing a medical problem because they are afraid of contracting COVID-19. She advised patients to call ahead for further guidance.

“This is just an incredibly unique situation that we’ve not ever seen before and it encompasses the gamut of outpatient and inpatient medicine to post-inpatient medicine and rehabilitation,” Chase said. “It’s taking care of all levels of care, which is not something that we do every day. For something like this, it’s so critical and so transmissible between people, it’s just really becoming something where we have lots of levels of care and lots of layers of plans that have to go into place.”

The county health department on Friday announced one confirmed case of COVID-19, but it has since been reclassified as a Pottawatomie County case as the patient lives in that county. However, Riley County orders banning gatherings of more than 10 and certain business closings are still in place.

Local officials on Saturday started daily operations of the emergency operations center, or EOC. Previously the group had met twice weekly.

Gibbs serves as the leader and spokeswoman.

Other entities involved include Riley County Emergency Management, Riley County Emergency Medical Services, Riley County Police Department, the Manhattan city government and the Manhattan Fire Department. They’ve invited partners from Pottawatomie and Geary counties, Fort Riley, Kansas State University and local health care providers to insure cooperation and teamwork. Multiple daily meetings are ongoing.

“Working together to solve problems during emergencies is what we do here in Riley County and the region,” said Pat Collins, Riley County Emergency Manager. “We will continue to plan, prepare, and carry out the mission of protecting of our residents in these uncertain times. It is what we have trained for and what we have done during other emergencies, and this time we are calling on the community to help by doing their part too.”

Public updates will be provided daily on KMAN radio at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.