CCH Safely Resumes Elective Surgeries
Since January, Christina Podolak knew that her son likely was going to need surgery to remove a bony growth below his knee.
As COVID-19 hit, elective surgeries like his were postponed as hospitals began putting some services on hold due to the virus. Columbus Community Hospital was no different. The decision was made in mid-March to suspend certain procedures to ensure the safety patients and staff. In total, about 400 procedures were postponed.
Like other patients, surgery for 16-year-old Simon Kelly at CCH was going to have to wait. Luckily, Podolak said her son wasn’t in a lot of pain.
As states like Nebraska began to lift safety measures and elective surgeries were available again, Podolak kept a close eye on the precautions instituted at CCH before she considered surgery for her son. She looked at the hospital’s social media accounts and website to keep up with the measures put in place and was comfortable with what she saw.
“I felt safe coming to the hospital with him when he got his MRI on July 1 and then coming back for his surgery,” Podolak said.
Kelly is one of several patients who have had procedures done at CCH since the hospital opened back up for elective surgeries at the beginning of June. Those procedures were suspended for about two-and-a-half months. During that time, only emergency surgeries were done.
The state allowed hospitals to offer elective surgeries again by May 4, but CCH waited a bit longer.
“We started elective surgeries a little later than other places in the state, and that was because we were waiting until we could do it safely,” said Chad Miller, director of anesthesia at CCH. “Not only did we go by the state guidelines, but we took in the status of our health district, our county and our community.”
Hospitals had to be compliant with directives from the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts to resume elective surgeries. Those directives include maintaining a 30% availability of overall hospital beds, intensive care beds and ventilators, as well as a two-week supply of necessary personal protective equipment.
Before making the decision to open back up for non-essential surgeries, other aspects were taken into consideration, like the number of new COVID-19 cases in the area. When that number began to steady and go down, it was decided to move forward with phasing in services that were suspended.
“We carefully watched the community and saw that things had stabilized in Columbus and in Nebraska, especially in rural areas like we are in,” said Dr. Ron Ernst, a physician with Columbus General Surgery. “When things looked like they were pretty well controlled, we began to slowly phase it in. We were very careful of not overloading the system and turning the switch on all at once.”
When a patient comes to CCH now, they will notice new safety procedures. First, all staff and visitors are wearing masks. Each person who comes into the facility also goes through a screening process and has their temperature taken. A similar process is used for each surgical patient.
“For all of our procedures, we have implemented a screening process. Patients are screened three days prior to the procedure,” Miller said.
They are asked health-related questions like if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, if they have been in contact with anyone who has symptoms or if they are potential carriers of the disease. They will be asked those questions again the day of surgery.
The screening process is taken a step further for patients scheduled for upper airway procedures because of a higher risk of the transmission of COVID-19. Those patients are checked for the disease with a nasal swab test administered at the drive-thru testing site at CCH at least a week before their surgery. Patients are strongly encouraged to then quarantine as best they can until the results are available. If the test is positive, the surgery is rescheduled.
CCH’s clinics are also prioritizing the safety of patients and staff. That is why anyone who sees a patient at Columbus Otolaryngology Clinic wears an N95 mask, face shield and other personal protective equipment.
“We are essentially treating every patient as if they might be COVID positive because people can be positive yet have no symptoms. Even if we test them and they are negative, they could have been exposed in the interim. You have to be on guard,” said Dr. Nila Novotny, a physician at the clinic.
While most elective surgeries are outpatient, some require patients to stay in the hospital to recuperate. For those who have concerns about an overnight stay at CCH because of coronavirus, special negative-pressure rooms are in place to house COVID-19 positive patients or patients exhibiting symptoms. A negative-pressure room is designed to isolate infectious diseases by preventing air from escaping the room. An additional negative-pressure room is also available at Columbus Otolaryngology Clinic for endoscopy procedures.
In order to reduce the number of people entering the hospital, CCH is limiting patients to just one healthy support person throughout the duration of their stay. The support person is also screened and required to wear a mask upon entering the hospital.
Podolak said these safety precautions gave her confidence to go ahead with her son’s outpatient surgery.
“It was a comfort to us. I did not feel at risk at all coming to Columbus Community Hospital,” she said.
For patients who might be apprehensive to have their surgery, Ernst said he feels that there is no safer place than CCH.
“We are following all the rules and regulations. That’s not so out in the public. You don’t know who you are being exposed to when you are out in the grocery store or at restaurants. When you come to Columbus Community Hospital, everybody is being screened, even the employees. In my mind, there is probably no safer place to be than in the hospital right now. The risk of contracting the disease by coming to the hospital is very low,” he said.