In the face of an unprecedented public health crisis brought on by the novel Coronavirus, the nation’s hospitals, including Southwest Health, began in mid-March postponing routine and non-essential health care. Today, Southwest Health announces hospital campus leaders are working in a proactive way to prioritize and begin carefully phasing in health care for patients with non-COVID-19 concerns.
“Ensuring the health and well-being of our patients, our communities, and our health care workforce remains our top priority,” states Southwest Health CEO Dan Rohrbach. “We remain concerned about the spread of this virus, so naturally, all our previous preparations and infection control plans remain in place at all our facilities. However, now is also the time to be proactive in order to help all those who have had to put off vital health care due to the crisis.”
In mid-March, Southwest Health leadership activated their Incident Command structure to effectively direct and manage the emerging situation and to establish COVID-19 specific lines of reporting and communication throughout the organization. Almost immediately thereafter, both hospital and clinic announced the postponing of routine and non-essential health care to stop the spread of Coronavirus, and with that move they also introduced both a 24/7 triage line staffed by Registered Nurses. Those changes were quickly followed by a new TeleHealth service. TeleHealth connects patients live by phone or online via smart phones or other devices. There, they can talk directly with a doctor or advanced practitioner. From family medical care to pain management to even some specialty services, such as dermatology, TeleHealth enables Southwest Health’s professional Medical Staff to continue to serve many of their patients’ non-COVID-19 needs.
Additionally, Southwest Health’s Incident Command leaders were able to quickly and effectively address critical supplies, including PPE, procurement of additional supplies, and use of national stockpile supplies. Preparing for a potential influx of COVID-19 patients, the team addressed both current and potential future staffing needs, re-deployments, employee health monitoring, employee exposures, and return to work procedures. To prevent infections and keep both patients and their health care staff safe, they implemented a separate “respiratory” care clinic for patients with COVID-19 symptoms in spaces separated from other hospital and clinic services. The hospital also created and implemented unit-specific clinical care and infection prevention measures to ensure safety and quality care for COVID-19 patients while also providing a safe environment for essential care for non-COVID-19 patients.
Through these measures Southwest Health was able to continue serving patients in many ways throughout the crisis, through their ER and Urgent Care services, limited clinic visits, 24/7 triage, and the rapid expansion of TeleHealth services. Today, Southwest Health is prepared to maximize the use of TeleHealth while at the same time plan for providing additional in-person care inside their facilities in ways that are safe for patients and staff alike.
In accordance with Southwest Health’s proactive moves, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released guidelines on April 19th that detail recommendations for health care facilities to re-start non-emergency, non-COVID-19 services. In the report, CMS states, “[we] recognize that at this time many areas have a low, or relatively low and stable incidence of COVID-19, and that it is important to be flexible and allow facilities to provide care for patients needing non-emergent, non-COVID-19 health care. In addition, as states and localities begin to stabilize, it is important to restart care that is currently being postponed, such as certain procedural care (surgeries and procedures), chronic disease care, and ultimately, preventive care.”
Now after more than a month and thousands of postponed services, leaders of hospital and clinic services at Southwest Health are preparing for the coming weeks when they can bring back patients with the most significant and pressing health needs, eventually working toward more regular operations. Doing so, they’ll be working closely with Medical Staff leaders. And while trends are currently pointing in a positive direction with comparatively few hospitalizations and few infections in southwest Wisconsin counties, Southwest Health’s team will be carefully monitoring the situation and making the decisions necessary to keep both patients and the health care workforce safe and healthy.
Previous preparations for the COVID-19 emergency that will continue for the foreseeable future include:
- Monitoring all employees on entry to work
- Screening patients and visitors who present at any hospital campus entrance
- Continued 24/7 phone triage and information with Registered Nurses
- Continued isolation of “respiratory” patients in a separate clinic space
- Continue having all direct line staff wear appropriate PPE
- Continue requiring patients wear masks on arrival
- Continued provision of TeleHealth services for appropriate patients
- Continued staffing of an Urgent Care provider in the family practice clinic
As an additional precaution, as appointments for routine and family medical care ramp up, staff will schedule patients in the higher risk age category with appointments prior to noon and those in a lower risk age group in the afternoon. That combined with other measures still in place will greatly reduce exposure for all, especially those at higher risk.
As Southwest Health begins to welcome patients back to their facility, they will maintain the requirement that all patients with flu-like or Coronavirus symptoms must call (608) 348-2331 prior to coming to the hospital or clinic. Registered Nurses are available at that number 24/7 at answer questions, guide patients to the care they need, or, during clinic hours, to help connect callers with a health care professional via TeleHealth. Patients without symptoms visiting the clinic for routine care need not call in advance. All patients and visitors should expect to be briefly screened at the hospital and clinic entrances and will be required to wear a mask, preferably one they bring with them in order to safeguard supplies for health care workers. If a patient does not have a mask, one will be provided.
Throughout the COVID-19 situation, Southwest Health has proven extremely diligent in providing the safest possible environment for all – patients and health care staff alike. As they move forward to provide more care, they are taking exceptional precautions to create a supremely safe facilities and safe interactions with health care providers. Says Rohrbach, “I am very proud of the way our team has responded to this public health emergency, and I know they are all eager to get back to helping patients out there who’ve had to delay their care.”