Wellstar Health System, one of Georgia’s largest and most integrated healthcare systems, today announced that it is resuming scheduling and performing select time-sensitive essential surgical procedures and additional services, such as laboratory and imaging. New and expanded infection prevention processes have been implemented to help keep team members, patients, and communities better protected from infectious disease during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision to resume these services is in accordance with Governor Brian Kemp’s Executive Order on April 23 to re-open specific sectors of Georgia’s economy with limited operations.
“We are proud of the commitment our team members, patients, and communities have shown in the effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The actions taken by Wellstar and people in the communities we serve has made a difference in our ability to provide care to those who need it most during the pandemic,” said Dr. John Brennan, executive vice president and chief clinical integration officer, Wellstar Health System. “Now it is time for us to safely expand our focus to meet the broader healthcare needs of our patients, with guidance from leading health authorities and our experts at Wellstar.”
Updates to Select Essential Surgeries
Effective May 4, 2020, Wellstar is scheduling and conducting time-sensitive essential surgeries and procedures, along with imaging and lab capabilities. Procedures that are prioritized for scheduling are for symptomatic, uncomfortable or painful issues such as gallstones and symptomatic ventral hernias, as well as colon polyps and indeterminant breast lumps. Some elective surgeries that can be safely delayed without patient harm or pain, such as cosmetic procedures, some joint replacements and soft tissue interventions, will continue to be delayed until further notice.
Wellstar will carefully evaluate these time-sensitive cases and follow guiding principles from the American Hospital Association (AHA), the American College of Surgeons (ACS), American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) and the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN). Re-scheduling of patient procedures will begin in early May and will be prioritized according to established criteria, taking into consideration surgical cancellations in March and April. Surgeons in each specialty will prioritize the backlog of patients based on factors such as severity of pain, impairment of mobility, risk of problematic developments, and other time-sensitive factors.
Patient Screening & Testing for Safety
Four days prior to scheduled surgeries, patients will be screened by telephone for COVID-19 related symptoms, their exposure to COVID-19 positive friends or family members, and recent visits to public places with large groups, such as churches, theaters and restaurants. Once a patient passes the telephone screening, they will be tested for COVID-19 via nasopharyngeal swab at an offsite location. Patients that test positive for COVID-19 will be asked to self-isolate at home and their surgery may be delayed up to 30 days. On the day of surgery, COVID-19 negative patients will be re-screened and required to wear a mask before entering a Wellstar facility, and will follow a separate pathway, including the doors they enter and exit from, the operating room used, and attending personnel, to ensure separation from COVID-19 positive patients.
“As effective social distancing measures continue to help stabilize the influx of COVID-19 cases, Wellstar is prioritizing the health and well-being of patients with emergent and time-sensitive needs to avoid worsening conditions and potential harm,” said Dr. William Mayfield, chief surgical officer, Wellstar Health System. “Although we are not performing any and all procedures at this point, resuming a number of these time-sensitive, essential surgeries will enable us to safely care for patients with health needs that can be addressed with medical interventions. We remain focused on quality and safety for each and every Wellstar patient, no matter their medical need.”
Continuing to Prioritize Safety
To ensure the health and safety of Wellstar team members, patients, and the community, Wellstar is continuing to enforce the proper safety protocols implemented in March, as well as following guidelines from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the World Health Organization (WHO), and other official health authorities.
- Visitor Policy & Screening – In accordance with guidelines from the CDC, Wellstar will continue implementing a temporary visitor policy designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect patients and team members during this pandemic:
- All visitors must wear a mask during the entirety of their visit.
- Visitors will be screened for their temperature, review of symptoms and travel history.
- No visitors will be allowed for people under investigation (PUI) or positive for COVID-19.
- Visitors with extenuating circumstance will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
- Laboring and post-partum women may designate one person for support. The support person must pass a health screening and cannot be switched out during the stay.
- Patients should consult with their medical provider regarding drop-off and discharge/patient pick-up instructions for all procedures regarding support persons and/or visitation.
- Infection Prevention & Discharge Procedures – Wellstar continues to enforce additional infection prevention procedures for in-patient stays and admission. In-patient stay decisions following procedures are based on the best option for a patient’s safe recovery, as well as other factors including hospital capacity, blood bank supply, length of patient stay, ability for the patient to isolate effectively versus isolating at home, potential requirement for ICU care, and more. Wellstar will also provide specific discharge recommendations that will take into consideration the patient’s recovery and self-care needs related to COVID-19, including possible self-isolation/quarantine, social distancing, wearing cloth masks, hand hygiene, and other additional infection prevention measures.
- Facility Disinfection & Employee Screening – Wellstar continues to perform enhanced cleaning and infection prevention consistent with CDC, governmental, and industry guidelines. Out of an abundance of caution, we are also following CDC guidelines for disinfection and for testing our staff. If a team member has symptoms and/or has a confirmed positive test, he or she will be asked to stay home and self-quarantine.
- Monitoring PPE Supplies – Wellstar is actively managing its supply chain to ensure adequate, continued access to materials, equipment, and personnel needed to care for patients, including personal protective equipment (PPE). The system is also working closely with the Georgia Department of Health, who has assisted the state in gaining access to additional supplies through the Strategic National Stockpile.
Serving Patients with Quality Care
In addition to resuming time-sensitive essential procedures, Wellstar is “open” and committed to providing world-class healthcare support in many ways, including:
- Virtual Health Visits – The Wellstar Virtual Health platform allows physicians to consult with their patients while adhering to social distancing or self-isolation guidelines during the pandemic. By conducting virtual health visits on a smart device or computer, Wellstar providers can remotely assess symptoms, prescribe treatments, and provide ongoing patient care. Wellstar has conducted more than 30,000 virtual health visits in the past four weeks.
- Emergency Departments & Urgent Care – Wellstar encourages patients who are experiencing health issues that require immediate attention to not delay a visit to an emergency department or urgent care facility. Delaying care for urgent or emergent medical issues could result in escalated severity of the condition. Wellstar is committed to ensuring patients receive timely care in a safe environment with expanded infection prevention protocols, including universal staff and patient masking, visitor and patient screening, cohorted/separate treatment areas, and enhanced disinfection and cleaning processes. In addition, Wellstar Online Care (“WellstarON”) is a free app that provides the immediate option to access convenient, high-quality urgent care whenever and wherever patients need it, for those two years of age and older. Patients are able to connect with a caregiver using secure streaming video.
- Wellstar Pharmacies – Wellstar pharmacies remain open and are operating on regular business hours. Due to visitor restrictions, Wellstar pharmacies now offer free deliveries to patients’ homes or curbside pick-up.
- Quick Turn Testing Results – Wellstar is conducting testing at its emergency departments and urgent care facilities for patients who present with COVID-19 symptoms or exposure and who meet testing criteria. Protocols are based on guidelines from the state, CDC, and public health authorities, and are updated to reflect current recommendations as they evolve:
- Patients who arrive at Wellstar hospital emergency departments with severe symptoms are admitted and tested as part of the diagnosis and treatment process.
- Patients who arrive at hospital emergency departments with mild symptoms are evaluated and tested – if they meet the criteria – before being sent home for self-isolation.
- Test results for patients who are evaluated, tested, and sent home take approximately 24-48 hours, and Wellstar team members will call the patient when his/her results are in.
Wellstar will continue to monitor data and scientific trends from the COVID-19 pandemic, including impacts on communities and the health system, in order to make informed decisions that will best provide for the health and safety of patients, team members, and communities.