After a roughly six-week moratorium, Gov. Ron DeSantis gave the all clear for hospitals to resume elective surgeries May 4.
It was a small first step toward normalcy, but one that will make an immense difference for people who have been doing without joint replacements, dental care and other “non-urgent” health care needs.
For the health care world, need hasn’t stopped because of COVID-19. Folks are still coping with hypertension, diabetes and broken arms. Physicians are just having to balance routine medical care services with the testing, treatment and monitoring needed to slow the spread of the global pandemic.
That balancing act will likely be the new normal for a long time to come.
“Heaven knows this is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Mark Faulkner, president and CEO of Baptist Health Care. “It may feel like ‘we’re already tired, can we quit the race?’, but the answer is absolutely not. We’re going to need to continue to be mindful and thoughtful and safe and careful for the foreseeable future.”
As Florida has begun easing into a phased reopening plan, local hospitals say they are taking a measured, methodical clinical approach to ramping up their operations. Baptist Health Care, Ascension Sacred Heart, West Florida Health Care and Santa Rosa Medical Center all said they have plans in place to safely move toward standard operations in the shifting landscape of the ongoing pandemic.
They will be working to get caught up on delayed elective surgeries, leaning more heavily on a virtual service model that safeguards patients and staff, while simultaneously reassuring a wary public that their campuses are as safe or safer than before the pandemic.
And they will continue to focus on expanding the availability and efficiency of COVID-19 testing, monitoring and treatment, hospital administrators said.
“We are not taking our foot off the gas in ensuring that we are having monitoring of any possible surge of patients in need of care for the virus,” said Dawn Rudolph, president of Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital Pensacola.
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With a six-week backlog of patients who’ve been forced to delay elective surgeries, local hospital administrators say they’ve largely prioritized procedures based on the relative need of patients and the recommendation of their physicians.
“We established early on a physician-led committee that help discern elective versus essential,” Rudolph said. “There’s always that conversation about, ‘is now urgent, or can we defer and create a new time for this procedure to happen?’ and so we wanted to have a process in place that was physician-led.”
Faulkner said that “elective” simply meant that a procedure was pre-scheduled, not something that was needed in response to an emergency.
“People deal with back pain issues or torn rotator cuffs or needing a knee replacement — all those things are are very important, but they’re not emergent,” Faulkner said. “Those are the types of procedures that were postponed, and those are the types we’re prioritizing. So we’re following the clinical guidance of the national societies and certainly following the recommendations and decisions of our medical staff leadership, as we open back up. We’re doing it thoughtfully deliberately, starting Monday (May 11) and into the coming weeks as we are in a bit of a catch up mode for folks needing care.”
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Officials from local hospitals say since the beginning of the pandemic, they’ve taken their cues from the Florida Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result, safety protocols are fairly uniform across local medical facilities.
There are checkpoints with screenings and temperature checks for patients, staff and visitors alike at entrances. Facilities are regularly disinfecting throughout the day, and there are universal face-masking policies in place. Patients who have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases are placed in dedicated nursing units.
Doug Sills, CEO of the Santa Rosa Medical Center, summarized the efforts saying, “we are taking extraordinary measures — going above and beyond all of our normal efforts to keep our hospital clean and safe — because if you need health care, we want you to feel confident and to know you are protected.”