As Valley Baptist Health System remains laser-focused on efforts to ensure that local residents continue to have access to high-quality healthcare in the safest environment, area physicians are urging the community to avoid delaying both emergency and routine healthcare.
Valley Baptist Health System has continued to work diligently on a number of “COVID SAFETY” standards throughout the pandemic as a means to assure the public that it is safe to seek timely and appropriate healthcare.
From regular and ongoing screenings of patients, visitors, employees, and medical staff, to maintaining specific COVID-free units and deploying badges designating select healthcare team members as COVID safe, these steps and guidelines are built upon deep clinical expertise and ongoing management of COVID-19, as well as continuous incorporation of CDC, CMS, and state recommendations, said Dr. Christopher Romero, internal medicine specialist at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen.
“We fully recognize that our community continues to have reservations regarding coming to the hospital for needed emergency and elective services during this time; however, since the beginning of this COVID-19 pandemic, our hospitals have put in significant control measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and people should feel confident seeking the medical care they need, even during these extraordinary times,” he said. “We are taking patient safety extremely seriously. Daily we care for patients that have conditions that make them susceptible for COVID-19 — we are able to accomplish this by putting in place very strict infection control measures throughout our hospitals.”
Such measures are a strict combination of infection prevention processes, training, testing, personal protective equipment, technology, and a wealth of previous experience and knowledge gained through dealing with other infectious diseases such as influenza/flu, Romero said.
COVID SAFETY standards at Valley Baptist Health System include the following components:
- Distinct COVID Care Zones – separate and isolated areas of the hospital for the treatment of positive or suspected COVID patients
- Separate teams to care for COVID and non-COVID patients
- Strict physician and staff protocols – daily screening, universal masking, and access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Heightened sanitization – enhanced cleaning of all surfaces and plenty of hand sanitization stations
- Access to in-house COVID-19 testing – testing for patients, physicians, and staff who require it
- Precautions for patients and approved visitors – provision of facemasks, hand sanitizer, and physical distancing
- Enhanced virtual access – virtual care, remote monitoring, as well as connectivity with loved ones
- Enhanced signage – informational signage installed throughout the hospital offering visitors reminders and tips on social distancing, hand washing, and the use of face coverings
Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jose Ayala said Valley Baptist’s COVID SAFETY standards should be a signal to the community that the hospitals are ready and prepared to provide the same safe, high-quality healthcare they have for nearly a century.
“These standards will help patients confidently seek care at our hospitals and allow our community to be less worried for loved ones. We are providing the reassurance that our patients, staff, and their families deserve,” he said. “I am proud of the work of our team to quickly implement these additional standards while continuously providing care for patients in the safest environment possible.”
Avoiding treatment for a wide array of chronic and emergent conditions can have serious consequences when it comes to long-term health and quality of life, especially when it comes to cardiac health, said cardiologist and Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville Medical Director of Cardiology Dr. Fadi Alfayoumi.
“The observation we have had for sure is that there is a clear trend for patients to delay treatment to avoid being exposed to COVID-19, and that is incredibly dangerous,” he said. “This is a very real problem, because treatment is all about time and delivering the proper therapy. It is great to have a fantastic team, but the benefit of having that team is to provide the appropriate treatment at the right time. If the patient does not seek treatment in the proper timeframe, it becomes more difficult to deal with acute vascular emergencies.”
While the importance of seeking emergency care for signs and symptoms of heart attack are typically obvious, Fadi said it is key for local residents to continue to maintain good cardiac health, which includes keeping regular appointments with their physicians and staying current with all appropriate screenings.
“Perhaps for some patients who have chronic controlled conditions, communicating with their physicians by phone or video conferences is appropriate,” he said. “However, many patients, such as those who are diabetic and dealing with high blood pressure, have chronic issues which are not under control, and by the time they present with significant symptoms we can be in dangerous territory.”
Like dealing with cardiac issues, addressing chronic neurological conditions can cause ailments to worsen over time, and delays in treatment when dealing with stroke can lead to poorer outcomes, increased risk of long-term disability, and even death, said Dr. Ameer E. Hassan, DO, FAHA, FSVIN, Head of the Neuroscience Department, Director of Endovascular Surgical Neuroradiology and Director of Clinical Neuroscience Research at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen.
“You should not delay stroke care because you’re afraid of COVID-19, stroke is very treatable even during a pandemic. The point to always remember is that ‘time equals brain.’ A delay of even five or 10 minutes can make a big difference in the patient’s outcome. Every minute in delay to treatment leads to 2 million neurons dying,” he said.“It is important for me to be extremely confident in my own hospital, and I have confidence that patients who come to Valley Baptist will get the appropriate care they need safely.”
Dr. Luis Gaitan, Medical Director of the Stroke Program at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville, said even during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important for eligible stroke patients to receive tPA as soon as possible as part of their treatment.
“Valley Baptist-Brownsville continues to strive for excellence in the acute treatment of stroke patients, and part of that effort is making sure our patients are receiving the appropriate care as quickly and as safely as possible,” he said. “When it comes to treating a stroke, every second counts regardless of what else we may be experiencing.”
Local physicians have offered similar advice to expectant mothers and area women who are managing their health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Harlingen obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Uvaldo Cantu said it is important for local women to not let fear of COVID-19 delay important pregnancy check-ups or medical procedures to treat chronic conditions or pain.
“Women should not be fearful or apprehensive about resuming their health screenings and gynecological visits. All pregnant women, or patients with a history of abnormal tests, or patients with a history of ovarian cysts or fibroid issues should not be fearful about returning to the office for additional work-ups or to the hospital for care,” he said.“We continue to provide our community with the highest quality of healthcare in the safest environment.”