Penn State Health today (May 9) announced it will begin to gradually and systematically resume standard patient appointments, nonemergent surgical procedures and other clinical activities after nearly two months of restrictions due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Heightened safety measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 remain in effect at all Penn State Health facilities. These include restricting hospital visitation, continued screening of all patients and employees for COVID-19 symptoms based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criteria, enhanced cleaning protocols at all locations and requiring employees to wear masks and other forms of protective equipment.
In mid-March, Penn State Health began limiting nonessential surgical procedures, certain clinic visits and other patient care services to preserve needed supplies and equipment in preparation for the coronavirus pandemic. The health system quickly transitioned to providing a variety of services—including COVID-19 screening services—through its virtual health programs for the safety and convenience of it patients.
“While we will continue to use telehealth where it makes sense for our patients, we believe it’s time to resume many of the in-person patient care services that were delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Dr. Peter Dillon, Penn State Health’s executive vice president and chief clinical officer. “As we return to a more normalized clinical schedule, we will do so with the health and safety of our patients and caregivers as our highest priority. We are completely confident that we can safely and thoughtfully resume clinical appointments and elective surgeries.”
Penn State Health’s decision to resume standard clinical activities was made following careful consideration of guidelines from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, American Hospital Association (AHA), American College of Surgeons (ACS) and other professional societies, which provide direction for health care providers to resume in-person appointments and elective surgical procedures. The guidance includes effective management and availability of intensive care beds, coronavirus test kits, medical supplies and personal protective equipment – such as masks, gowns, gloves and face shields – to support a potential COVID-19 surge. Penn State Health will continue to follow CDC guidelines regarding infection control recommendations.
Penn State Health continues to screen each patient entering its facilities for COVID-19-related symptoms and risk factors, as well as test patients for COVID-19 if needed. In addition, Penn State Health will test surgical patients regardless of symptoms if a positive result would impact a surgeon’s decision to move ahead with a surgical procedure.
Since March 16, Penn State Health has successfully treated and discharged more than 150 COVID-confirmed patients in its hospitals and tested more than 11,000 patients for the virus. Its hospitals are providing the most advanced treatments for COVID-19 patients, including convalescent plasma therapy and clinical trials for remdesivir.
While Penn State Health, its physicians and staff remain vigilant about the possibility of additional waves of COVID-19 cases, it is vital that patients feel comfortable keeping their medical appointments, visiting their specialists, and coming to the hospital for emergency care.
“Avoiding medical care out of fear of contracting COVID-19 may be detrimental or even dangerous to the long-term health of many patients. It’s essential that patients come to the clinic or hospital if they require medical or surgical treatment,” Dillon said. “We know that patients and families may have concerns and we want to reassure them that Penn State Health is taking rigorous steps to keep them safe when they come to a Penn State Health hospital or clinic for care.”
Penn State Health continues to practice numerous safety measures and accommodations at its facilities, including:
- Screening of patients prior to their visit to our facilities to limit potential COVID-19 exposure.
- Separate entrances and treatment areas for patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, utilizing specially trained care teams to provide clinical care.
- Social distancing, such as spaced-out seating in waiting rooms and visual markers in hallways and clinics to encourage physical distancing.
- Modified registration, triage and checkout processes for patients to minimize time spent in waiting rooms and other common areas.
- Removal of nonessential items from practice site exam rooms and waiting areas to provide additional infection control.
- Extended office hours in some locations, with staggered staffing shifts, to spread the patient traffic flow over a longer time period and mitigate congestion at our facilities.
- Regular deep cleaning throughout all Penn State Health facilities.
- All clinical staff required to wear protective masks at all times.
- Visitor restrictions at all Penn State Health facilities remain in place, with limited exceptions for end-of-life-care, visits to obstetrical units and neonatal intensive care units, or for those accompanying minors or individuals with intellectual, developmental or cognitive disabilities.
For patients and families facing economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Penn State Health is also committed to providing financial counseling and support. Services include helping patients and families register for medical assistance programs, develop payment plans and determine if they qualify for charity care. Additional information on Penn State Health’s patient financial services can be found here for the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and its affiliated practices and here for Penn State Health St. Joseph.