BURLINGTON — The University of Vermont (UVM) Health Network has begun scheduling non-urgent and elective outpatient procedures and appointments that do not require a hospital stay, beginning with those that were postponed in preparation for a COVID-19 surge. Timing and types of encounters will vary based on what is appropriate for each Network affiliate, and the central focus at every location will be the safety of patients and staff.

“People in our region have done a good job of staying home and following guidance to protect themselves and their neighbors, reducing the spread of COVID-19,” said John R. Brumsted, MD, CEO of the UVM Health Network. “I am proud that we are able to begin safely rescheduling procedures that our patients have been waiting for. We know that even procedures considered non-urgent or elective can have a measurable impact on people’s lives.”

UVM Health Network providers will aim to operate at about 60 percent of normal capacity for several weeks to enable social distancing and continued conservation of personal protective equipment (PPE). Network providers will reach out directly to patients whose procedures or appointments were postponed, but any patient should call their provider with questions or concerns, including those regarding routine care.

At every Network location, UVM is taking extra precautions and following updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), American Hospital Association and other leading health care organizations. Experiences may vary slightly between providers in Vermont and New York based on state guidelines.

According to a statement from the network, here is an overview of what to expect:

Social distancing:

  • Only a few appointments at a time are scheduled to limit the number of patients and staff in our buildings.
  • Visitors are still not allowed, with certain exceptions, such as labor and delivery, and end-of-life care. Patients will need to attend appointments alone unless they need assistance. We understand it may be difficult to experience your exam or procedure without a support person, but the policy is in place to protect everyone’s safety. Please reach out to your care team for more information.
  • To reduce the amount of time spent in common areas, like waiting rooms, patients may be asked to wait in the car, and may be brought directly to an exam room instead of checking in at a front desk.

Screening:

  • Patients and staff will be screened at building entrances for symptoms and possible exposure, including temperature checks. For patients with respiratory complaints or a fever we are taking every precaution to minimize exposure to others and get them the care they need.

Masks:

  • All of our patients and staff will be wearing masks. If you have a mask, please wear it to help us conserve PPE. Patients who do not have a mask will be provided with one.

Testing:

  • Before certain outpatient surgeries or procedures, some patients will be tested for COVID-19 and asked to quarantine between the time of the test and the time of the appointment. In addition, patients who are admitted through the emergency department may also be tested for COVID-19.

Cleaning and sanitizing:

  • As usual, exam rooms are thoroughly cleaned between patients. We are also cleaning our common areas, like check-in desks, waiting rooms, door knobs and faucets, frequently throughout the day. Hand sanitizer is also available and patients may be asked to clean their hands during their appointment.

According to a statement from UVM Health Network regarding the development, Network hospitals have been providing care to many patients in addition to COVID-19 patients—families bringing babies into the world, patients needing care for heart attacks or strokes, and victims of car accidents.

Patients will be contacted by their provider’s office to reschedule a postponed encounter, or to confirm a previously scheduled one. However, patients should call with any questions or concerns, including those about routine care.

“We understand many in our community are concerned about safety, and we do not want anyone to delay care they need because of those concerns,” Brumsted said. “This message applies to those in need of urgent care, and those in need of regular preventive and elective health care. We are here for you, we are able to care for you safely, and we want to support you in managing your health.”

Another change that patients may experience is the increased use of eHealth, especially video visits.

Before the pandemic began, about 60 patient visits per week were being done remotely. That number has skyrocketed to 6,000.

“This has been an unexpected silver lining,” said Brumsted. “We are hearing from patients that they really appreciate the convenience of eHealth options, and we believe that this way of connecting with our patients is here to stay.”

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