Due to the success of preventive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our region, all hospitals, outpatient centers and physician offices in the St. Mary’s system are taking steps to safely accommodate ongoing patient needs, including elective surgeries, tests and procedures, and patient visitation.
“We are prepared so that our patients are protected,” said President and CEO Montez Carter. “We have adequate personal protective equipment and are taking a phased approach to resuming services. As we do so, the safety of our patients, colleagues, providers, and community is our top priority.”
Carter said the decision to resume services is based on the reality that many patients need care that has been postponed. “We want patients to have confidence to not delay care they need and certainly don’t want them to wait until their disease progresses to the point of a crisis state,” he said.
“At the same time, we realize there are some who want to continue to postpone their procedures for the time being. We urge them to talk with their doctor to assess their individual needs and how long it is safe for them to postpone care. We are committed to providing a safe environment for those who choose to move forward with their procedure.”
Similarly, St. Mary’s is now allowing limited visitation for inpatients who do not have COVID-19. Under the new policy, most inpatients may have one adult patient per day between the hours of 2-6 p.m., seven days a week. Visitation for COVID patients may be permitted in certain circumstances if approved by the clinical team, and other exceptions are possible for patients delivering a baby, nearing the end of life, or with cognitive deficits. All visitors will be screened for signs of illness, including a fever, before being allowed to visit.
When in-person visitation is not possible, St. Mary’s Chaplains can assist in setting up virtual visits with patients, Carter noted.
“Virtual patient visitation is another way that we are using telehealth technology to promote healing and connectivity during this difficult time,” he said. “It has also become very popular with our Medical Group patients, who can use it to have virtual visits with their provider for sick care, wellness check-ups and chronic condition management without having to go to the office.”
All St. Mary’s facilities have implemented extensive measures to protect the safety of patients, colleagues and providers. Key measures include:
- Screening everyone who enters a St. Mary’s facility for signs of illness, including fever.
- Requiring all colleagues, providers, vendors and visitors to wear a mask at all times while in the building.
- Requiring inpatients to wear a mask anytime they leave their room and when staff are present.
- Creating COVID-free zones, which are areas where staff provide care only for people not known to have COVID-19 symptoms.
- Facilitating rapid testing of patients with symptoms and those whose surgical procedure requires an overnight stay.
- Continuing to clean and sanitize with increased frequency, paying special attention to surfaces that are frequently touched.
- Continuing to follow the latest guidance from the CDC, Georgia Department of Public Health, and other state and federal authorities.
In addition, St. Mary’s Medical Group has implemented precautions to protect patients, staff and providers at its medical practice offices throughout Northeast Georgia.
“Safety is the top priority in our practices, too,” said Brandt Halbach, director of physician services. “We screen patients for fever and other symptoms as they enter our offices. We ask most patients to wait in their car and then escort them directly to their exam room. If that’s not possible, we have set up our waiting areas to provide the recommended social distancing.”
Halbach said St. Mary’s Medical Group staff and providers wear masks at all times, have additional PPE available when needed, and sanitize furniture, equipment and rooms regularly.
“We also ask patients to wear a mask and will provide them with a mask if they don’t have one,” he said. “Further, we encourage our patients – especially those who are most vulnerable – to take advantage of our telehealth visits whenever possible.”
Carter urged people in the community to continue practicing preventive measures.
“Local or regional flare-ups remain a real possibility and can happen quickly,” he said. “We urge everyone to continue taking the precautions recommended by the CDC: maintain social distance of 6 feet or more, wear a mask over your mouth and nose in public, avoid gatherings, wash or sanitize your hands often, and if you develop symptoms, stay home and call your doctor.”