By Doug MacQueen, MD
Scheduling an appointment with your physician or seeking immediate treatment at a Cayuga Health System urgent care or emergency room should still be part of everyone health care planning even during the coronavirus disease pandemic. It’s understandable that COVID-19 precautions and quarantine efforts have raised patient concerns about coming to a doctor’s office or a hospital, but it’s also important to not put your health care needs on hold.
At Cayuga Health System additional safeguards and procedures are protecting patients from coronavirus infection. We screen all patients coming to either Cayuga Medical Center or Schuyler Hospital, Convenient Care locations and medical office buildings for the disease and its symptoms. At our hospitals, visitor restrictions are in place, isolation rooms have been established for treating patients with COVID-19, employees are regularly tested for coronavirus infections, cafes and cafeterias have been closed to the public to reduce virus transmission risk, and additional cleaning and disinfecting of all our facilities minimize the spread of the virus. Those procedures along with an aggressive effort to test residents for coronavirus and broad community support for social distancing, wearing masks in public, and minimizing trips away from home have resulted in the low number of COVID-19 cases in our region.
How are patients with COVID-19 infections treated at Cayuga Medical Center?
A separate wing of Cayuga Medical Center isolates COVID-19 patients from other areas of the hospital. Those caring for COVID patients wear protective clothing and use specialized equipment to protect them from the virus. Patient rooms in the isolation wing maintain negative pressure that pulls air into the room and prevents air containing coronavirus from escaping into other parts of the hospital. A ventilation and filtration system separate from the hospital’s system treats exhaust air from the COVID patient rooms before being released outside the hospital.
Access to each COVID patient is limited to medical staff and the patient’s nurse who use protective equipment during treatments and examinations. Disposable trays, utensils, cups medical equipment used in the isolation rooms are handled as medical waste and incinerated. Our coronavirus precautions are effective. There have been no cases of anyone one acquiring a COVID-19 infection at either Cayuga Medical Center, Schuyler Hospital, or the Seneca View Skilled Nursing Facility.
How is testing used at the hospitals?
We test all patients admitted to Cayuga Medical Center or Schuyler Hospital and all patient’s having same-day elective surgery. Medically necessary surgeries have been performed at our hospitals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency and urgent surgeries are not delayed while waiting for COVID test results, so extra PPE may be used by staff during those cases. All Cayuga Health System employees are being tested regularly. This prevents an employee who may be asymptomatic for coronavirus from spreading an infection.
What is a screening policy at Cayuga Health System?
We limit patient access to the main entrances of our buildings and to our emergency departments’ lobby doors. After entering our buildings, we ask patients about their possible exposure to coronavirus and whether they have had symptoms of a possible infection. If you are sick, you will be escorted directly to your destination within the building.
What is the visiting policy at Cayuga Health System?
In keeping with New York State health department guidelines issued in April, we do not allow most visitors into the hospitals unless they are essential to the care of a patient or family members or legal representatives of patients facing end-of-life situations. In late May, the health department selected 21 hospitals for a two-week pilot program to allow increased visitations for family members and loved ones. The outcome of that program may allow other hospitals to expand their visitation policies.
When should a patient make a telemedicine appointment rather than an office appointment?
Cayuga Health System physicians and providers have established protocols to assure the safety of patients coming to an office visit. In addition, Cayuga Health System expanded its Telehealth capabilities in early April to allow patients to stay at home and have online appointments with their health care providers. Many of our providers have online portals and accept email requests from patients seeking Telehealth appointments. Patients who are ill or have COVID-19 symptoms should use Telehealth rather than risk spreading disease by going to an in-office appointment or to a hospital. Many routine appointments can be done with Telehealth. Some common conditions a primary care doctor may treat via telemedicine include allergies, arthritic pain, asthma, colds and flu, diarrhea, infections, conjunctivitis, skin inflammations, sore throats and vomiting.
For a Telehealth appointment, patients must have internet access, a smart phone, tablet, or computer with audio and video/webcam functions, and a browser such as Chrome, Safari, or Firefox. Call your provider’s office to arrange a Telehealth appointment. When a patient requests Telehealth services, an initial assessment of the health issue is made to determine if Telehealth is appropriate for the person’s health needs. Some offices can also do telephone visits if smart phone not available and it is covered by insurance during the COVID pandemic.
Patients with urgent, acute conditions that are not life threatening such as sprains, simple fractures and rashes may need in-office care from their physician or visit a Cayuga Health System Urgent Care office when their physician is unavailable. Before going to our Ithaca or Cortland Urgent Care offices, complete the Urgent Care Fast Web Check-in at forms.cayugamed.org/uc/ucwebreg.cfm or call the Convenient Care at Ithaca (607) 274-4150 or Convenient Care at Cortland (607) 756-7200.
Patients having a medical emergency such as chest pains, seizures, head or neck injuries should call 911.
Dr. MacQueen is board certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases. He is the Medical Director of Cayuga Medical Center’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Program and the Infection Prevention Program that has most recently focused on coronavirus care and prevention in the Cayuga Health System. He can be reached at the Cayuga Center for Infectious Diseases at (607) 257-2920.