COVID-19 has continued to change how medical centers do business, from new safety measures to telehealth.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee has tested and treated COVID-19 patients in their emergency department.
Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. Monte Johnson has been in constant communication with staff members over the past three months and said that the key to relieving stress in their frontline workers is transparency.
He thinks that the fear is based on the unknown, and the more open they are with the staff, fears will be better quenched. One of the messages he has conveyed to them is that they expect a surge of COVID-19 cases coming in the summer.
Johnson also gives logistical updates, such as the number of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment.
“We feel like we’re in a good place with our PPE at this point,” Johnson said.
One factor that impacted the use of essential supplies devoted to COVID-19 patients was the cancellation of elective surgeries. Last month, the state announced that elective procedures were able to be resumed.
Currently, St. Francis’s surgery volume is currently at 50 to 60 percent capacity. Johnson said if and when another surge comes in the summer, they may think about reducing or eliminating elective procedures again.
Ridgeview Medical Centers, headquartered in Waconia, has tested more than 2,500 people, not just emergency patients, since early March.
However, Ridgeview President and CEO Mike Phelps said their testing supplies remain limited to only symptomatic patients and certain asymptotic patients, according to the Minnesota Department of Health guidelines.
Symptom criteria for testing include fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, severe fatigue, muscle aches and loss of taste or smell.
Medical centers like St. Francis and Ridgeview know that predicting the future in the era of COVID-19 is a moving target. Ever-changing timelines and models of the virus force facilities to be prepared for anything.
“There is no crystal ball as to what the future holds from a sense of viral spread, timing and peak,” Phelps said.
He added that Ridgeview’s Hospital Emergency Operations Center team meets every day, along with frequent conversations at their state hospital association and with local health agencies, to prepare as best they can for the uncertain future of the pandemic.
RISE OF TELEHEALTH
Amid this medical battle, one silver lining has been found by clinics: the innovation of medical technology, or “telehealth.”
Before COVID-19, Allina Health, which oversees St. Francis, had less than 10 percent of virtual health visits. Now it is near 75 percent. Johnson doesn’t expect the percentage to remain that high after the pandemic, but higher than before.
“The pandemic has accelerated the pace of (telehealth),” Johnson said.
Health officials said they have taken precautions to allay concerns of patients entering a medical center during a pandemic.
Ridgeview Medical Center facilities screen every patient who enters their buildings.
St. Francis screens all patients by checking their temperatures when they enter and cleans commonly touched surfaces regularly. There is also a plexiglass barrier between the receptionist and patients.
“We have worked very hard to make sure it is safe to come here,” Johnson said.
Safety is the overarching message this summer from Johnson. While the state starts to reopen parts of the economy, he wants to remind people that the battle is not over yet.
“Continue to be smart, wash your hands and wear masks in public,” Johnson said. “We are not out of the woods yet.”