NORTHAMPTON — The evidence is overwhelming: patients have delayed their care because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now weeks out from the region’s surge, Cooley Dickinson Hospital wants to reassure the public that it is safe to come back to its providers and facilities. And June trends within various hospital services are showing that patients are beginning to do just that.
“Like all of us, our community has been watching how this virus impacted hospitals on TV and through other media,” said Cooley Dickinson Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Estevan Garcia. “With all the initial uncertainty, you really can’t blame our community for being nervous about seeking care at a hospital or doctor’s office. But now, because of our community’s adherence to public-health interventions, including social distancing and use of masks, the peak of the virus is behind us. We are now focusing our efforts on bringing people back for care they need and deserve.”
Cooley Dickinson Hospital has taken steps to ensure its staff and all Cooley Dickinson facilities are up to the highest standards to provide safe care for patients. Those steps include a commitment to offering safe care, which includes emphasizing categories of prevention: screening patients, visitors, and staff; cleaning spaces and high-touch surfaces; and protecting everyone in the healthcare environment.
Two weeks ago, Cooley Dickinson Hospital resumed some elective procedures — including general surgery, total joint replacement, and pediatric dental surgery — in its operating rooms, and has been performing more endoscopies and colonoscopies.
Lynn Grondin, director of Nursing for Perioperative and CVIR Services, said all her staff have returned from being reassigned from working in other areas of the hospital, and they are running at about 50% of normal capacity and expect to be at about 75% capacity by the end of the month. Because some cases that were non-emergent three months ago could now be more urgent, Grondin noted that Cooley Dickinson providers are prioritizing which surgeries need to happen sooner.
Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s Emergency Department has seen a 100% increase from its COVID lows, during the height of the local pandemic. Up from seeing 35 to 45 patients per day, ED providers are now seeing 70 to 80 patients per day, which is approximately 20% below the organization’s typical ED volume.
“We are seeing people with chronic illness who have waited too long to seek medical attention and are sick,” said Emergency Department Nurse Director Sara McKeown. “We have also seen an uptick in people seeking mental healthcare; patients presenting with substance-use issues and trauma are also increasing.”
On June 15, Cooley Dickinson Hospital began welcoming a limited number of visitors for patients who are hospitalized. Patients are allowed one visitor at a time. If someone is visiting a Childbirth Center patient, the laboring patient and their partner are considered one, so one additional person is allowed to visit.
Upon entry to the hospital, the visitor will be asked screening questions; they must successfully pass the screening before being allowed to visit. Visitors are also given a hospital-issued surgical mask they must wear throughout their visit.
At off-site facilities, due to physical space constraints, no visitors or companions are allowed to accompany patients to appointments at Cooley Dickinson Medical Group offices. Limited exceptions may be granted depending on individual situations. In-person visits are available when the provider needs to examine a patient or if they need specific tests done. As of last week, medical practices are beginning to see more patients come in for care, but those numbers are still low.
“We are incrementally increasing the presence of providers in our offices to accommodate the need for our patients to be seen by their provider,” said Kevin Neill, vice president of Cooley Dickinson Medical Group. “Safety is our priority. We screen patients prior to an office visit and on the day of the visit. We provide masks to patients and to all staff, and we limit or avoid time spent in our waiting rooms. Our offices are ready to support our patients who need to navigate their office visit experience.”
Since the start of the pandemic, most Cooley Dickinson Medical Group providers have been offering telephone or video visits to patients via the Patient Gateway portal, through which patients can schedule an appointment with their provider, launch virtual visits using Zoom directly from the portal, review notes from their provider visit, and contact their provider with non-urgent messages.
Nearly “anything except care that is an emergency can start with telehealth services,” said Cooley Dickinson Medical Group Medical Director Dr. Sari Miettinen.
If community members have general questions about COVID-19 or locally available health services, or if they are looking for a medical provider, Cooley Dickinson’s Community Call Center can help. Call (888) 554-4234 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.