Safety is Top Priority as AHN Returns to More Normalized Medical and Surgical Operations Following COVID-19 Restrictions

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Allegheny Health Network (AHN) is returning to a more normalized schedule and protocols for medical appointments and non-emergent surgical procedures after six weeks of restrictions due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Dr. Donald Whiting, AHN Chief Medical Officer

“After more than a month limiting medical visits and encouraging the public to seek health care services by phone or online, AHN is prepared to safely resume in-person care at all of our facilities,” said Donald Whiting, MD, AHN’s Chief Medical Officer.

Allegheny Health Network (AHN) is returning to a more normalized schedule and protocols for medical appointments and non-emergent surgical procedures after six weeks of restrictions due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Heightened safety measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 – such as restricting hospital visitation, screening all patients and employees for COVID-19 symptoms based on the recently expanded criteria of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and requiring employees to wear masks and other forms of protective equipment – remain in effect at all AHN facilities.

“After more than a month limiting medical visits and encouraging the public to seek health care services by phone or online, AHN is prepared to safely resume in-person care at all of our facilities,” said Donald Whiting, MD, AHN’s Chief Medical Officer. “However, the health of patients and caregivers remains our top priority, and we will continue to strictly adhere to the safety precautions and protocols established by the CDC and OSHA.”

AHN’s decision was made after consultation with local health officials and the state Department of Health, which has authorized health care providers to resume in-person appointments and elective surgical procedures, as long as they can do so safely, and as long as they have enough ICU beds, coronavirus test kits and personal protective equipment – such as masks, gowns, gloves, and face shields – to respond to a COVID-19 surge.

“We are fortunate to be in such a position at AHN,” said Sri Chalikonda, MD, AHN’s Chief Medical Operations Officer. “Because of safety measures and social-distancing requirements put in place by the state and county health departments, Western Pennsylvania didn’t have as many COVID-19 cases as the rest of the state. As a result, it appears we have flattened the curve regionally, and at this point we are confident that we can safely resume clinical appointments and elective surgeries.”

AHN will continue to screen every patient for COVID-19 symptoms and risk factors, and those who do not pass the screening will be tested for COVID-19. In addition, AHN will test surgical patients regardless of symptoms if a positive result would impact whether the surgeon would proceed with the surgery.

While AHN and all health care providers are mindful about the potential for additional waves of COVID-19 cases, it’s important that patients feel comfortable keeping their medical appointments, visiting their specialists, and coming to the hospital in a health care emergency.

“We do not want patients to avoid seeking care for more serious conditions or health emergencies for fear of contracting COVID-19,” said Dr. Whiting. “We understand that concern, but it’s vital that patients come to a hospital if they have an emergency, and we want to assure patients that because of the steps we are taking they will be safe and well cared-for when they come to an AHN facility.”

Safety precautions and accommodations at AHN facilities include:

  • Extended office hours, with staggered staffing shifts, to spread the patient traffic flow over a longer time period, to mitigate congestion at facilities.
  • Setting up separate entrances and treatment areas for COVID-19 patients — and utilizing our specially trained infectious disease care teams to treat those patients.
  • Spaced out chairs in waiting rooms, and other visual markers, to encourage physical distancing.
  • Strategic sneeze guard installations in reception areas and other patient touchpoints.
  • Deep cleaning throughout our facilities every two hours, at minimum.
  • Pre-screening procedures to expedite appointments.
  • Clinical staff wearing protective masks at all times.
  • Visitation restrictions at AHN facilities remain in place, with limited exceptions for end-of-life-care and visits to obstetrical units and neonatal intensive care units, disabilities, developmental disabilities or cognitive impairment.

About the Allegheny Health Network:
Allegheny Health Network (AHN.org), a Highmark Health company, is an integrated healthcare delivery system serving the greater Western Pennsylvania region. The Network is composed of 10 hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, Health + Wellness Pavilions, an employed physician organization, home and community based health services, a research institute, and a group purchasing organization. The Network provides patients with access to a complete spectrum of advanced medical services, including nationally recognized programs for primary and emergency care, cardiovascular disease, cancer care, orthopedic surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, women’s health, diabetes and more. AHN employs approximately 21,000 people, has more than 2,500 physicians on its medical staff and serves as a clinical campus for Drexel University College of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine, and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

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