Leon Bernard proudly 'rang the bell' in Augusta Health's Cancer Center on July 14, signifying that he had just completed his final radiation treatment. He began treatment on May 20. During the entire course of his radiation, COVID-19 was an active and spreading disease within the community—one that was of particular concern to cancer patients with vulnerable immune systems. Cancer did not pause for COVID-19, and neither did cancer treatment at the Augusta Health Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.
Mr. Bernard, however, always felt secure inside the Cancer Center and appreciated all the staff did to make his treatments safe and comfortable.
"I never had a concern about COVID in the Cancer Center during my entire 39 treatments," he says. "They asked me screening questions before I even entered the building, escorted me from the outside check-in to my appointment, and took my temperature just inside the lobby. Everyone was in a mask throughout the entire Center."
Mary-Kate DePriest, MSN RN OCN, Director of Clinical Operations in the Center, explains, "There are obviously concerns when treating cancer patients during a pandemic, and the answer to every question has been safety, safety, safety! That means diligent screening, proper and constant social distancing, appropriate masking and good hand washing. Preventing our patients from getting COVID is very important, so we adapted our processes. We reduced their exposure and treat them efficiently, while continuing to be sure they are satisfied with our services and care."
The waiting room was eliminated. Instead, patients drive up to the Center's entrance, where they are greeted curbside by key members of the staff. The patient—along with everyone in the car—is asked screening questions about respiratory symptoms, fever, travel and exposure to anyone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19. The patient is then checked-in to the appointment curbside. When all is ready, another staff member escorts the patient directly into his or her appointment. Inside, staff asks the patient additional, more in-depth screening questions and takes the patient's temperature before beginning treatment. Most patients are masked; all staff is masked during treatments.
"Radiation treatments are pretty quick," adds Mr. Bernard. "Only about 15 to 20 minutes from the time you enter the building to when you leave, but it's always important to be safe. And to be honest, I felt more safe and comfortable inside that building than anywhere else."
"I was more uncomfortable gassing up my car to get to the appointment—you never know who has touched that nozzle!" he jokes.
"Seriously," he concludes, "The entire team was professional and enjoyable to work with. They made sure I took all the precautions I needed to, and they took every precaution necessary, too. I was very impressed."