As Colorado moves into the Safer at Home Phase, Delta County Memorial Hospital (DCMH) has received a number of questions on what receiving care from DCMH and our clinics will look like moving forward. Sara Knutson M.D., DCMH Pulmonologist and Planning Section Medical Director for the Hospital Incident Command team, took a moment to answer your top questions.
With the “Safer at Home” phase beginning,
can I still come to the hospital and the ER?
DCMH encourages you to continue coming to the hospital and ER for your care whenever needed. It’s a bad idea to put off evaluation of symptoms that are new, unstable, or concerning to you or your family. We especially encourage you to keep in contact with your primary care provider to make sure that your health care concerns are addressed before any of your needs become more urgent. Some of those concerns can be addressed via a video or audio telehealth visit in the outpatient setting, but may require a physical trip to the clinic if necessary. It is very important to make sure that regular health care, preventative work and monitoring occur as they normally would despite the pandemic.
Is it safe for me to even consider going to the hospital or ER?
We are working extremely hard at DCMH to make sure that the hospital and ER environments are as safe as possible. Policies have been established that guide prompt detection of disease and diagnostic work-ups, supportive medical treatment and infection control measures. These measures include restricting the flow of outside visitors, having universal symptom screenings of all hospital staff and outpatients prior to entry and the requiring of face masks and hand hygiene practices. We have planned for the space and dedicated staff to care for COVID-19 patients, keeping those patients with suspected COVID-19 separate from other patients.
How about seeing my Primary Care Physician (PCP) or a Specialist during this time, is that safe?
Yes, it is still safe to see your DCMH Primary Care Physician or Specialist during this time. As you know, we have offered our patients the use of advice lines, patient portals and telehealth visits with their providers. These measures can reduce the risk of unnecessary health care visits and prevent the possible transmission of infection. We want our patients to feel comfortable knowing that you can still come to your clinic for all care involving non COVID-19 issues.
From a COVID-19 standpoint, procedures have been developed and made available to our staff to guide them through the care of symptomatic patients and to help us decide which patients can be managed over the telephone and which patients need to come in for an assessment. When patients do come in for evaluation of respiratory symptoms, they must call before arrival so that our staff can appropriately prepare for them to arrive in order to ensure the safety of all staff and patients. Patients may be directed to a private entrance of the clinic, for example, and will see the provider team dedicated to possible COVID-19 infection. These measures make the clinic experience safer for everyone.
Will it look different when visiting the hospital or clinics? How so, and what can I expect?
Whether or not you call ahead, you should expect that upon admission to the clinic the front desk personnel will do a screening by asking you about any symptoms or exposures to disease you may have had. If you have symptoms, fever, or exposures, you may be asked to remain in your car until the best management of your symptoms or exposure can be determined. You should expect to keep your mask on even when you do not have symptoms, since we know that sometimes people can be infectious although asymptomatic. Your provider will wear a mask; this is for your protection as well as theirs. Other than that, your clinic experience will likely be very similar to what you might generally encounter.
Some hospitals have slowed down or stopped elective surgeries, what makes it safe for them to start back up now?
DCMH is proceeding very carefully to return to some elective surgeries in order to serve the needs of their patients. If there is evidence of an increasing trajectory of infection in the community, the return to elective surgeries may be further delayed at any time. The same measures to prevent infection described above apply to all elective surgeries; algorithms are in place to ensure appropriate screening occurs. Higher risk patients may need to wait longer for elective procedures.
Additionally, patients will undergo pre surgery COVID testing followed by quarantine before surgery to make sure their risk of being infected is minimal. Meticulous measures are in place to minimize perioperative risk. All of these measures are consistent with what is being done at many other hospitals across the country. COVID-19 infection will likely be around a long time; while we want to meet the needs of our community, we also want to make sure this is done in the safest manner possible going forward.