Consistent support and increased safety precautions were key to maintaining patients’ confidence in Penn State Health St. Joseph’s cardiac rehabilitation program during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the days leading up to March 24, when St. Joseph temporarily suspended cardiac rehabilitation services, staff had already begun to adjust procedures in response to COVID-19 and share their efforts with patients. That communication continued during the program suspension, easing the transition for patients when it resumed on May 11 after receiving the green light from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
“We reached out to patients once every week, making sure they were walking, staying healthy and reminding them that we were planning to reopen,” explained Allison Cannon, exercise physiologist. They also shared details of the new guidelines that would be in place once the rehab program reopened. “As a result, all our patients re-enrolled except for those who had almost completed the program prior to COVID. None had significant safety concerns.”
Knowing that St. Joseph was screening participants for illness, requiring masks, cleaning equipment after each use, encouraging frequent hand-washing and limiting one patient per therapist helped to ease the transition.
“Before we closed, it was more of a concern. There was the fear of the unknown,” Cannon said. “As time has gone by and it’s our reality, people are becoming more used to it. They are concerned, but it’s not as overwhelming as it once was.”
For many participants, restarting the program meant a return to normalcy, according to Rhea George, a cardiac rehabilitation nurse.
“They’re just happy to be here and appreciate the fact that we are up and running,” George said. “They say this was a way to get a little bit of normalcy back in their lives.”