Pensacola-area hospitals are beginning to gear up for a resumption of services that have been on hold since the coronavirus pandemic took root and spread.
After a six-week halt, Gov. Ron DeSantis green-lighted hospitals to resume elective surgeries on May 4, as part of his phase one to reopen the state.
“Which really, I think, is long overdue; that is going to really be important for health, safety and welfare of people,” said the governor. “It’s not like it’s a sea-change phase one; these are cautious steps, but I think they’re steps that we need to take.”
That’s one small step for normalcy, one giant leap for people needing a joint replacement, dental and vision care, or wanting cosmetic surgery.
“These are issues that patients have had to deal with, frankly, for the last seven weeks; so we’re glad to be able to meet those needs now that the elective surgery postponing has been lifted,” said Baptist President and CEO Mark Faulkner.
He adds that the priority list for elected procedures remains the same as before the pandemic hit, through the hospital’s physician leadership and surgeon governance council.
“We look at the critical nature of patient care; the urgent nature of procedure itself, and we’re sorting through that from a clinical algorithm standpoint,” Faulkner said. “And we are making sure that we are getting to those patients in the most urgent situation. So that’s working out fairly well right now.”
For now, Faulkner says part of resuming elective surgeries is playing catch-up with the backlog of cases.
“And there are also others that are putting off their care, and we understand that,” said Faulkner. “There are many reasons why; some of them might elect to continue to defer their care. We want to make sure we’re working in partnership with them, that we’re all collectively making those right decisions. So we’ve been able to manage those ready and anxious, as well as those that are a little less urgent.”
For now, Baptist and other hospitals in Florida are walking a very fine line involving COVID-19; elective surgery, and the everyday cases such as non-COVID ailments and trauma.
“We are prepared, equipped and trained to manage a situation where you’ve got emergent issues, elective issues, and infectious diseases all at one time,” Faulkner said. “We’ve been, perhaps, more diligent making sure that we’re creating a separation and the environment to maintain safety for our patients and our visitors – and our workforce.”
The Pensacola News Journal quotes Faulkner as saying, “heaven knows [coronavirus] is a marathon, not a sprint.” He adds that the new normal – even if it’s not permanent – will still be around for quite some time.
“We’ve bent the curve, we’ve flattened the curve; now I think it’s monitoring and surveillance of the spread in the community,” said Faulkner. “Then we’ll just manage the numbers and hopefully we won’t see a dramatic uptick. I don’t think the numbers are going to go to zero until we have a vaccine or ‘herd immunity.’ And that’s going to be months and months.”
Officials at Baptist – along with those at Ascension Sacred Heart and West Florida – have been working with officials with the city of Pensacola and Escambia County on initial reopening efforts.
“I think this is an ‘and’ and not an ‘or;’ I think we can manage the COVID situation while also getting back to some sense of normalcy,” said Faulkner. “I’ve been a supporter of the mayor, county commissioners [and] the governor. I think they’ve made wise choices thus far.”
One concern across health care is people needing treatment for non-COVID issues, but are hesitant to visit their doctor or the hospital because of the pandemic. Wrong move, says Faulkner.
“What we don’t want to happen is for people to postpone healthcare decisions because of fear of being exposed; we’ve been able to manage this transmission and spread of COVID inside the health care community,” Faulkner said. “And I frankly think we may be more at risk in our social interactions more so than we are in the hospital.”
And this is not the first time this has happened. Faulkner says some patients put off their treatments in the wake of Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
“We even had examples of patients that were in the middle of radiation treatments for cancer,” said Faulkner. “They were receiving weekly radiation and they stopped it. Why? Because they had to get a blue roof on [their homes]. They had to deal with the situation at home; we’re finding that again.”
Given stay-at-home orders and quarantines, many cases have been handled through “Telehealth” – meeting virtually with your doctor via the Internet. Mark Faulkner at Baptist says the number of such cases has grown from almost zero two months ago, to more than 12,000 as of last week.
“We’ve changed the way we deliver care, to make it more accessible, safer and more comfortable,” said Faulkner. “And I do think when we get back to ‘a new norm,’ then we’re going to continue to offer Telehealth as well as in-person visits.”
Another innovation that may stick around after the pandemic is the concept of working remotely. Baptist has gone from fewer than 20 staffers working from home, to more than 1,800. The same could be said for other health care organizations, along with businesses across the board.