Covenant Health pathologist Mark Williams, MD

Covenant part of Mayo Clinic plasma trial; Roane Medical gets state help

Covenant Health hospitals, which include Methodist and Roane Medical Centers, have joined a nationwide effort to begin treating some COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma transfusions as part of a clinical trial. Convalescent plasma is donated by patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and is being given experimentally to current COVID-19 patients who are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms.

The “Expanded Access to Convalescent Plasma for the Treatment of Patients with COVID-19” trial is sponsored by the Mayo Clinic, and includes about 2,000 hospitals and 5,000 physicians nationwide. All nine Covenant Health acute-care hospitals in the region are able to participate in the national protocol for treating severely ill patients suffering from COVID-19 with convalescent plasma.

Plasma is the liquid component of blood that contains many useful proteins and antibodies. It is commonly used in the daily practice of medicine for treating certain conditions.

Covenant Health pathologist Mark Williams, MD, who is principal investigator for the clinical trial, said, “Convalescent plasma refers to plasma that has been donated by patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and is likely to contain antibodies to the SARS-CoV 2 virus.”

The main purpose of the national protocol is to determine the safety and efficacy of treating acutely ill COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma.

“Convalescent plasma transfusions have been used effectively in the past to treat other viral infections and preliminary results indicate that it may be effective for speeding recovery from COVID-19 and possibly saving lives,” Dr. Williams said.

Since there is no specific treatment for COVID-19, the Food and Drug Administration approved convalescent plasma for emergency investigational use, and convalescent plasma was first used at a Covenant Health hospital in early May at Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville.

“This particular use of blood plasma is only for hospitalized adult patients who are at least 18 years old showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19 infection and who are positive for the SARS-CoV 2 virus. Any patient admitted to a Covenant Health facility, and who is determined to be eligible, will be given the opportunity to participate in the national protocol and receive this treatment if available,” Dr. Williams said.

 He added that “while this treatment may be beneficial to patients already suffering from COVID-19, it has not been proven to be effective at preventing healthy persons from getting sick from the disease, and no evidence suggests that it limits the spread of the virus from person to person.”

 Patients who participate in the trial will be asked if they would be willing to donate plasma once they have recovered from their illness. 

“Since availability of this treatment relies on donations, it’s our hope that anyone who has recovered from this illness would consider contacting their local blood donation center regarding their recovery from COVID-19 and would donate their plasma for this common cause,” Dr. Williams said.   

Covenant Health hospitals participating in the clinical trial for “Expanded Access to Convalescent Plasma for the Treatment of Patients with COVID-19”:

Knoxville area:

Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center

Parkwest Medical Center

Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge

Other Covenant Health hospitals:

Claiborne Medical Center, Tazewell

Cumberland Medical Center, Crossville

Fort Loudoun Medical Center, Lenoir City

LeConte Medical Center, Sevierville

Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System, Morristown

Roane Medical Center, Harriman

One of those Covenant Health hospitals will receive funds through the Governor’s Small and Rural Hospital Readiness grant program.

Tuesday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the final distribution of $10 million in Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants to support smaller hospitals that are facing financial strain due to the ongoing response to COVID-19.

“Our small and rural hospitals play a critical role in their communities, providing both necessary care to patients and good-paying jobs to residents, and we’re proud to support these hospitals through such unprecedented times,” said Gov. Lee. “We’ll continue to work with hospitals across our state and the federal government to ensure hospitals have the resources they need to maintain operations and serve their communities well.”

Spread across 29 hospitals in 28 counties, the grants help smaller hospitals bridge funding gaps created by reduced patient volumes while federal funds become available. Applicants were required to demonstrate that they are actively pursuing available federal relief. Grants were capped at $500,000. Among the recipients was the Roane Medical Center in Harriman, which received a grant of $136,545.

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:20 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, his mother-in-law and cats Lucius and Oliver.

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