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Elective procedures resume at Merit Health Natchez

Elective procedures, such as colonoscopies and mammograms, are the lifeblood economically for many hospitals.

Those outpatient procedures can resume this week at Mississippi hospitals, part of Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ executive order issued last week, which took effect on Monday morning, relaxing some COVID-19 restrictions.

That’s good news for Merit Health Natchez.

“Hospital volume across the state is at 20% occupancy,” said Lance Boyd, CEO of Merit Health Natchez. “Elective procedures are very important for every hospital, and we are no different.”

Boyd said every effort would be made to keep patients and health care workers safe as those procedures resume.

“Safety is our highest priority,” he said.

A number of precautions for infection prevention, access control, social distancing and patient flow are in place now at Merit Health Natchez, the hospital reported in a press release issued Monday. All who enter the building, including hospital staff, are screened and all employees, physicians and patients are expected to wear a mask.

In addition, furniture in waiting areas has been spaced to maintain appropriate social distancing. Cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces and caregiving spaces has been intensified and visitor restrictions remain in effect, the press release reported.

“Some people may be putting off needed care for fear of catching COVID-19. Those people need to know we are making every effort to protect patients from that,” Boyd said.

He said one of the most requested outpatient elective procedures is the mammogram.

“Yes, we will begin doing mammograms again,” Boyd said. “This hospital does 4,000 mammograms each year. We are the only one offering 3D mammograms in our area. Still, I think we have an additional 2,000 more that should be done each year. My concern is with these delays, I hope we don’t begin seeing more bad news.”

General surgeon and Merit Health Chief of Staff, Dr. Geoffrey Flattmann, agrees.

“It is important to reschedule healthcare procedures that have been delayed so health conditions do not deteriorate,” Flattman said. “I want to remind you it is safe to come to the hospital. If you are sick, whether it is possibly related to this virus or it’s totally different, do not hesitate to come to the hospital. Our medical staff and hospital employees are totally prepared to take care of you safely. It is vitally important to seek emergency medical care when needed.”

Non-COVID-19 care zones have been defined in the hospital, the hospital’s press release reported. Patients who are COVID-19 positive are segregated in the same unit, away from other patients.

“We are now in what we call our Reopen Readiness — Phase One stage,” Boyd said. “In this phase, we will still close our main entrance at noon and our No Visitation policy remains in effect. As we continue to add surgeries and some routine procedures and tests, we are monitoring our patient flow in order to ensure social distancing guidelines within our hospital.”

All patients being scheduled for surgery and requiring general anesthesia or other breathing treatments that release particles into the air will be tested for COVID-19 in advance of the procedure. The hospital is closely monitoring its inventory of test kits, personal protective equipment, medications and other needed supplies to make certain it has the resources to support the number of patients in its care, the press release reported.

A strange, but galvanizing time

Boyd said while he has never been through anything like the Covid-19 pandemic, it is have a heartening learning experience.

“This has been one of the more galvanizing events I’ve ever been through. It has been fantastic to see physicians, administration, front line workers, everyone come together to safely take care of patients and keep each other safe. We have had accountability throughout,” Boyd said. “It has been fantastic to see that. And we needed that. Adams County has been hit hard per capita and everyone has come together to take care of the sickest patients. I am proud of our medical staff. Dr. Flattmann and Dr. Martin have done amazing work.

“We have learned a lot from this. The main thing is, we know now we can make dramatic changes overnight if needed to accommodate an outbreak,” Boyd said.

The need for the hospital staff and the medical community to come together has opened new lines of communications, he said.

“One thing that we have been doing, every Friday at noon, we have a virtual medical staff meeting. All in the medical community gets on a phone call, and we discuss the current state of things, what’s going on, what people are seeing. We share ideas and ask questions,” Boyd said. “We’ve been doing that since March 13. When this is over, we may not continue this on a weekly basis, but I think it would be a good idea on a monthly basis. One thing this has shown us is we have lots of good ways to communicate. I think we will keep these open lines of communication. I think that will keep us galvanized.”