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Daily Journal
     April 28, 2020      #35-119 KDJ

Continuing care: Local hospitals say needed

By Lee Provost

KANKAKEE — Hospitals have been forced to make numerous and, in some cases, dramatic changes to the way they conduct their business in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Isolation units have been created. Visitors have been banned. Video physician visits have been instituted. Protections to contain any potential spread of this virus manufactured.

But officials also want the public to realize that their organizational mission remains quite the same: treating the entire public. The tentative date to begin urgent care procedures or medical necessary/time-sensitive operations is May 11.

Now that the shock waves which rocked the medical world have somewhat calmed, doctors and administrators at Riverside Medical Center and AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital are signaling to patients that procedures put off for these past few weeks should not be wiped away from anyone’s minds.

“People are fearful. That’s understandable,” said Nancy Crossett, director of surgical services at St. Mary’s. “I know our surgeons have already been reaching out and letting their patients know that procedures cannot wait forever. We will provide a safe, clean environment.”

Procedures are being ranked in terms of their effect on quality of life and the impact on longevity of life.

Crossett noted cancer biopsies will be the procedures first dealt with. She said issues causing extreme discomfort or illness will follow, then joint replacements.

St. Mary’s officials note hospital procedures will begin on a limited basis — meaning about 10 procedures per day. Riverside also noted procedures will be completed as the most urgent being completed first.

Procedures discussed with doctors still need — and must — be addressed so people do not experience permanent damage or even worse, a shortened life, due to placing care on a back burner rather than venturing to a hospital for the surgery.

Riverside president and CEO Phil Kambic said emergency room medical teams are dealing with patients now who should have come into the hospital at least a week ago. He said unfortunately the public believes the hospitals don’t either want to see them or that they don’t have the time. In both cases, he said, those are incorrect assumptions.

But, he noted, the public is doing what they feel is best — meaning letting the hospitals’ staffs focus on those dealing with the coronavirus.

“We are facing the question of ‘how do we open up safely? How do we deal with people whose conditions may have worsened?’” he said. “People are afraid to come in, but we need to be treating these chronic illnesses.”

Dr. Keith Moss, Riverside’s chief of staff, said unfortunately the current situation plays right into patient denial. By that, he said, patients have the excuse that their condition is not serious or worth bothering busy doctors and nurses.

Matt McBurnie, Riverside’s vice president of institutional advancement, put it another way.

“Fear has held people back. Our mission is how do we get them past that point?”

One way, Moss noted, has been the advancement of something called “telemedicine,” the medical world’s version of FaceTime. Telemedicine is a method for medical providers to communicate and complete a basic examination without requiring the patient to visit the hospital or office, thus eliminating fears of exposure to the virus.

Riverside doctors began using the system in mid-March and have conducted more 4,000 virtual appointments to date.

“You can see their face and talk to them directly. Obviously, you can’t do testing,” Moss said.

But, he said, even with those restrictions, staff gets a better sense of what is happening. If a more in-depth review is needed, then an appointment is made.

Through telemedicine, Moss noted medicine can be prescribed. A virtual visit can last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. It can be used in accessing patients in all stages of life, from pediatric to geriatric patients.

“This does not take away the need for a face-to-face visit, but this can be a great first step in accessing a patient,” he said.

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