A global pandemic causes changes in behavior: Concerns for health and safety give people pause when deciding to leave their homes to go places that will have many people. Especially if there are additional concerns that some of those people will actually be sick with COVID-19. But the need for regular, routine healthcare—especially for those managing chronic conditions who might be at greater risk for complications from COVID-19—does not change. So Augusta Health is taking extraordinary measures to be sure that its facilities are the safe space for all who need healthcare.
It all starts with the basics: cleaning and disinfecting the space
Augusta Health's Environmental Services staff has detailed procedures for the daily, terminal cleaning and sanitizing of all environmental surfaces and equipment. The department works closely with the Infection Prevention and clinical department leaders to make sure all standards to provide a clean and safe environment are met or exceeded.
"There's been an increased focus on cleaning high-touch surfaces throughout Augusta Health," says Tony Helmick, Director of Environmental Services at Augusta Health, "and we've been able to use additional Command Center staffing support to assist with cleaning the waiting rooms, lobbies and high traffic areas such as the Emergency Department."
Every isolation room, which includes all COVID-19 rooms, are terminally cleaned and then treated with UV-C technology. Augusta Health's uses Surfacide for its UV-C technology. This is an automated cleaning system that scientific data indicate is an effective additional layer of disinfection protection. The technology is not new to Augusta Health; the health system was an early adopter of the technology almost five years ago.
"We are using the Surfacide UV-C technology at least 100 times a month on isolation rooms," adds Helmick. "Our use typically increases significantly every year during flu season, so we expect an additional increase again this year."
Environmental Services is in the process of adapting a new technology, the Protexus Electrostatic Spraying System, for use throughout Augusta Health. This system sprays a sanitizing chemical and uses an electrostatic charge within the sprayer that moves the sanitizing chemical droplets directly to surfaces rather than allowing them to float through air. This technology is planned for all high risk areas identified by the Infection Prevention team.
Additionally, to keep all Augusta Health Team members safe, the Environmental Services staff has worked with the Facilities Department to determine new maximum occupancy rates for all spaces such as break rooms and common areas, and provided Cleaning Kits for each area so staff can clean and sanitize the spaces after each use. They've worked tirelessly and proactively with vendors and manufacturers to ensure all necessary supplies—including the everyday but suddenly scare supplies such as paper towels and toilet paper—are always in stock.
"We recently celebrated Environmental Services week from September 13 through 19," says Helmick, "and it was an opportunity for us to tell our essential EVS team how important they are to us, and that we appreciate and recognize the countless hours of hard work they have provided over the past several months. They've been completely dedicated to our patients, community, Augusta Health and each other."
And continues with screening of all who enter our buildings
Augusta Health screens everyone who enters its facilities: Patients, Care Partners, Visitors and Team Members. This process identifies any individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, those with recent positive test results and those who may have had a recent exposure to COVID-19.
"We have our safety plans in place to ensure we are meeting the needs of patients who may answer 'yes' to any of our questions while also keeping others around them protected," explains Shelley Payne, CTRS, Patient Experience Coordinator at Augusta Health. "We are also able to ensure that everyone is masked prior to entering. This allows us to keep everyone as safe as possible while they are in our care. It also gives us the opportunity to make sure they are getting to the right location for their testing, their procedures, or to visit their loved one."
At the hospital, seating has been decreased in waiting rooms to ensure proper social distancing. Visitation hours are limited, and each inpatient is allowed one visitor at a time. In the Emergency Department, one support person is allowed for the duration of treatment.
"Within our Respiratory Care Unit, where we are treating patients with COVID-19, we are not allowing visitors," adds Payne, "however, we do have technology is place so families can speak with patients or the medical team since they are unable to physically be present in the rooms."
The main Atrium Lobby has been converted into a communications and coordination hub for patients waiting for testing or blood work. Chairs are spaced to ensure social distancing, and all surfaces cleaned and disinfected between patients. Registration areas are also cleaned and disinfected between patients.
"Our hospital team members have met and surpassed all the demands that COVID-19 continues to challenge us with," says Payne. "These dedicated team members have raised the bar on the level of care they provide to our community. With the magnitude of the teamwork I witness daily throughout the organization, it reinforces that COVID-19 only made us stronger as an organization."
"I've been helping to coordinate the screening and safe transport of our patients at our five main entrances since the middle of March," she adds. "Every day I have the opportunity to witness this great group of my colleagues care for their community and each other by working so hard to keep everyone safe. They've set aside time from their normal daily job requirements to come help and be there for our patients, visitors and each other. This speaks volumes for our team members and their community commitment."
"I realize it can be frustrating to stop, answer questions and have a temperature taken," says Payne, "but we know from the past seven months that we are making a difference in our local numbers by doing this screening, enforcing the use of masks and ensuring social distancing throughout Augusta Health. It's what we need to do, and are doing, to protect everyone and keep them safe."
And out in the practices?
Away from the hospital, in doctors' offices and physician practices, team members continue efforts to keep all patients safe.
The creation and continued operation of the Waynesboro Respiratory Assessment Center itself creates a level of safety for all. Any patients with respiratory symptoms are directed to this single location for evaluation, testing and treatment—so that they won't be seen in the other urgent cares or primary care practices and possibly expose others to COVID-19.
Pre-procedure testing is also done at this location. The requirements for who needs pre-procedure testing have been updated. Risk stratification is used to determine who needs to be tested. This testing is done in a drive-through lane so these patients also can avoid possible exposures to COVID-19.
Within the medical practices, all magazines and educational materials have been removed from waiting rooms. Common areas are disinfected at least every two hours, and social distancing is maintained by limiting the number of patients in the waiting room. Patients coming for appointments are screen the day before by phone and given a temperature check when they arrive.
All equipment and each room are disinfected between patients. A card that reads "This room has been cleaned and sanitized for your safety" is placed on the exam room table after disinfection so patients can be sure the cleaning has been completed.
Finally, when appropriate for the patient's circumstances and condition, telehealth visits are available.
COVID-19 will be a part of the healthcare landscape for months, if not years, to come. Augusta Health is doing all it can now to ensure our community stays safe and healthy today and in the future.