Delivering care that is safe and effective continues to be the highest priority for UCLA Health and, since June, UCLA’s hospitals and ambulatory clinics have been returning to normal operations. Johnese Spisso, MPA, president of UCLA Health and CEO of the UCLA Hospital System, talks about resuming operations in the new normal.
At the onset of the pandemic, we canceled or postponed thousands of non-emergency surgeries or procedures as we prepared our hospitals for a possible surge of patients with COVID-19. In normal times, our hospitals usually are at 100 percent capacity. That was brought down to about 50 percent, and our ambulatory clinics also dropped to about 50 percent. But as the months of the pandemic unfolded, people not only stopped coming for routine care, many did not come for emergency care, and many surgeries or procedures that were non-emergent months ago are perhaps now essential. We know that COVID-19 did not cure cancer, it did not cure heart disease, it did not cure stroke, and it did not cure mental illness, and we have been concerned about these patients, as well as those in other high-risk vulnerable populations, who need our care but have been frightened to come in. As we have adjusted to a new state of normal, we are working hard to reassure them and the wider public that the necessary measures are in place for us to safely and effectively resume delivering care to them.
We have been doing a lot of outreach and education. As part of that effort, we joined with other health systems in Greater Los Angeles to launch a campaign with the message that “life may be on pause but your health isn’t” to encourage people not to forego seeking necessary care for non-COVID-related illnesses or injuries.
This restart requires a delicate balance, maintaining vigilance for any spikes in COVID-19 cases while ramping up routine patient care. We have implemented universal-masking requirements — everyone entering the hospital must wear a mask — as well as temperature and symptom screening for everyone, including visitors and staff, and enhanced infection-control standards. And we are testing everyone who is admitted to the hospital or comes for an outpatient procedure. Our clinical laboratory has been amazing. Our increased testing capacity — as of early July we had tested some 43,000 patients — along with these other steps helps to ensure that we can provide a safe environment for our patients, visitors and staff.
In addition to the care we deliver in the hospital and clinics, the use of telehealth and virtual visits has grown significantly over the past months. This allows UCLA Health to serve patients and the community while minimizing opportunities for exposure and decreasing the likelihood of disease transmission. This increasingly is becoming an important channel for delivering care.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented situation for health care providers, but this is not the first time we have faced an epidemic. We have been challenged in the past by outbreaks of such diseases as measles, tuberculosis, SARS and MERS. Even if no patient with these illnesses sets foot in our hospitals or clinics, we prepare for and learn from each of these events, increasing our understanding of what we need to do to prepare. The knowledge that we gained from those past experiences helped to guide our response to the current pandemic. Now we are reviewing the lessons we have learned over these past months and considering our strategies going forward as we transition back to our core mission of delivering high-quality health care.
We know how important our patients’ families and friends are in the healing process and though we worked to find other ways for patients to stay connected, such as virtual visits, restricting visitors during the pandemic was a terrible burden. Now, with our universal masking policy and temperature- and symptom-screening protocol in place for everyone who enters our hospitals and clinics, we are very happy that we have been able to safely remove some of those restrictions on visitation. Of course, everyone must continue to be vigilant about physical distancing and hand washing when entering and exiting the building, but our current guidelines have expanded the opportunities for patients to receive visitors.
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COVID-19 Visitor Guidelines >