After two months of stay-at-home orders and the closing of nonessential local businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, HealthPartners and Hutchinson Health have started to perform time-sensitive surgeries and procedures this month.
"Early on in this we didn't know a lot about the pandemic," said Dr. Scott Staples, a family physician at Hutchinson Health since 2001. "We were not ready for an influx of patients."
To ensure patient and staff safety, Hutchinson Health implemented protocols such as restricting visitors, modifying lobbies to allow for social distancing, COVID-19 screenings and requiring everyone to wear a mask.
Two months later, Staples said he's proud of what they accomplished.
"We're as ready now as we can be," he said. "We can be proud of all that Hutchinson Health and HealthPartners have done. The entire state worked collaboratively."
While safety protocols were put into place at hospitals, something unexpected happened. The number of non-Covid-19 patients declined. Locally, the decrease was reflected in new Urgent Care hours and staff furloughs.
Staples felt there was an assumption health care providers were too busy with COVID-19 patients to see their regular patients and that it wasn't safe to go to the clinic.
"At first, appointments were postponed to make sure we had capacity to meet the influx of patients," he said. "However, I was frustrated to see my patients forego needed care. My office is the safest place to be in Hutchinson, other than your own home. We had screenings at multiple levels, drive-up testing, screenings at the door and tele-health. We've done a tremendous amount of work to make it safe. Cleaning was always way ahead of the curve. We've doubled down on that. It's more robust now."
While elective procedures were restricted to increase capacity and save supplies, Staples said the rest of the care he and other health care professionals provide is not elective, such as for chronic diseases and surgical procedures.
"There's more risk in delaying routine follow-up than COVID," he said. "The sickest patient I see is the one who comes in for 3- to 6-month check-ups and have been waiting until their appointments to talk about what's gone wrong. It gets worse while they wait. While pushing things out was needed early on, it's really important for patients to get chronic disease care. I'm also glad we're reopening for most procedures."
PANDEMIC BRINGS NEW PATIENT SERVICE
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, state regulations for tele-health visits were put aside during the state emergency. As a result, it created an opportunity for providers to see patients without meeting in person. Visits are conducted electronically via a meeting app or a phone call.
"I think it's here to stay," Staples said about tele-health. "I'm excited about the opportunity to provide care for patients. I tell my co-workers, the genie is out of the bottle. The pressure on regulators will be for them to find a way to keep it a part of our care delivery."
Looking back over the past two months, Staples said he's truly proud of what has been achieved.
"We're using good tests," he said. "We have tools that didn't exist four months ago. It's a testament to science. During medical school, we learned about pandemics and identified what causes them. It took 30 years to identify hepatitis C and years to identify the HIV virus. We figured this (COVID-19) out in months. Information is changing so fast. We're at a good point, ready for what comes next."