One of western Pennsylvania's largest medical systems is ramping up non-emergency surgeries and other routine care, which have been on hold for the past six weeks due to the coronavirus. But it's not quite business as usual at Allegheny Health Network.
While the region never saw a surge of COVID hospitalizations, Dr. Don Whiting, AHN’s chief medical officer, says he’s concerned that some people are putting off necessary medical care out of fear of exposure to the coronavirus.
AHN says it has implemented a number of changes designed to protect patients and staff. There are separate entrances and treatment areas for COVID patients, facilities are deep cleaned frequently, sneeze guards have been installed, and office hours have been extended so as to avoid crowding.
“We’ve changed our office waiting area seating to accommodate social distancing,” said Whiting. “People may be waiting to be called to come in for their office appointment in their car rather than waiting in the waiting room.”
AHN’s visitation restrictions remain in place, and clinic staff must wear masks at all times.
Whiting estimates that it will take roughly six weeks to work through the backlog of non-emergency surgeries that were put on hold.
AHN’s competitor UPMC has already resumed elective procedures. The two health systems provide medical care for the lion’s share of western Pennsylvanians.
Whiting says AHN patients who have been waiting the longest and need the most urgent care will be prioritized.
“People who, for example, needed spine surgery and are getting around the house with a walker and are having more and more pain,” he said. “Or people that have cardiac disease that have narrowed arteries and that are having more symptoms.”
Unlike UPMC, AHN will not test every patient for the coronavirus prior to surgery. But it will test patients, even those who are asymptomatic, if a positive result might affect whether a surgery should move forward. All AHN patients will be screened for coronavirus exposure, this includes being asked about COVID symptoms.
WESA receives funding from AHN.