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Advanced Cleaning, Screenings Keep Hospitals Safe During Pandemic

"Hospitals have been, are and always will be one of your safest places to be. This was true before COVID, and it still is true. I'm very confident that hospitals are a very safe place. You aren't going to get COVID from visiting the hospital."

Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital — Milton. BIDH photo
(TNS) - As surgeries, screenings and appointments start back up at hospitals in the state, health officials say they are taking extra precautions to make sure health care facilities are safe and that patients and staff stay healthy.

Rich Fernandez, president of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton, said hospitals have long dealt with infectious disease, and while social distancing hasn't always been part of the vocabulary, health care systems are prepared to operate during COVID-19.

"Hospitals have been, are and always will be one of your safest places to be," he said. "This was true before COVID, and it still is true. I'm very confident that hospitals are a very safe place. You aren't going to get COVID from visiting the hospital."

Melissa Merwede, infection prevention manager at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton, said the hospital is following Gov. Charlie Baker's phased approach to reopening, as well as guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She said health screenings of staff and visitors, frequent cleaning of the hospital, and advanced technology are ensuring people are safe despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hospital implemented a three-point system check, in which patients and visitors are screened for potential COVID-19 symptoms. Patients are contacted 24 to 72 hours before a scheduled appointment for a screening, once they arrive at the hospital entrance and then again when they reach the department they are there to visit. Patients and visitors are required to wear a mask, and furniture has been moved to encourage social distancing.

Fernandez said staff is screened daily, and employees with any symptoms, no matter how seemingly insignificant, are given paid time off and a COVID-19 test.

"The No. 1 thing is keeping staff and providers safe," he said. "If we keep them safe, we can keep patients safe."

Hospitals are easing strict limitations on visitations put in place in March. Patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton are allowed to have one visitor at a time to limit the number of people in the hospital.

"It's safe to come visit and it's definitely safe to come for an appointment," she said. "It has been a great approach by the state, and as long as everybody follows the rules, we'll manage to keep things at bay."

The hospital is also using two ultraviolet light machines to disinfect surfaces and kill viruses, including the coronavirus. Merwede said the machines have become more difficult to purchase because they are in high demand, but the hospital already had the machines for use in operating rooms and isolation areas.

"We've used this for quite some time, and we know it's effective against COVID, and we've added that extra step to keep people safe when they come in from home for any procedure," she said.

At Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth, Harry Snook, environmental services manager, said ultraviolet light has long been in used in hospitals and operating rooms as a way to disinfect surfaces.
That technology has come in handy for the hospital as units dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients are returned to their original purpose, such as a general medicine floor.

Snook said staff deep cleaned the entire unit, scrubbing the ceiling to the floor with disinfectants and stripping and waxing the walls in patient rooms, hallways and closets. Staff then used a three-light ultraviolet machine to make sure all the hard surfaces, including furniture and fixtures, are germ-free.
Snook said the hospital has two light systems — each with three light emitters — which they use every night in the operating rooms and pharmacy compounding rooms.

Rooms in the emergency department are also cleaned with the ultraviolet light machine if a patient is confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19, Snook said.

"We want to make sure the patients feel like they're not going to catch something they didn't come in with," he said.

Snook said the hospital also has an air management system in the emergency department lobby that pulls air in, cleans it with ultraviolet light and pushes it back out. While the lobbies aren't congested with people, Snook said, the system still offers some peace of mind.

Snook said the hospital already had the system in place before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.
"It's not that we were gearing up for this, but we're constantly looking at innovative ways to make patients feel more comfortable," he said. "It worked out well that we were ahead of the game."

Dr. George Barrett, chief of gastroenterology at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton, said patients are starting to realize that it's safe – and important – to return to the hospital and their doctors' offices for routine appointments.

"It's safe in the hospital and it's safe in my office. We do everything we possibly can to keep patients and staff safe, and patients should feel very comfortable," Barrett said, adding that it's especially important for patients with chronic conditions.

"It's so important to keep up with care because healthy people are doing better if they get COVID," he said. "People with diabetes, COPD and high blood pressure, shouldn't be missing appointments and putting themselves at risk."
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