Arnot official discusses their unique role in state’s phased process

Health providers are exercising "an abundance of caution" as they work toward and plan for a return to more normal services for patients -- but as the sector most directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, they expect that to be a lengthy road.

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Arnot Health operates multiple hospitals, outpatient facilities and nursing homes in the region -- they say things have had to change drastically over the past few months, but they’ve worked to mitigate those changes.

"Obviously, the restrictions on nursing home and hospital visitation have been a hardship on residents, patients, and their families and friends, but our staff has facilitated "virtual" visits through use of Zoom and other video technology," Ken Roberts, a top spokesman for Arnot Health told The Leader. "Similarly, our primary care physicians and several specialists have utilized telemedicine, via telephonic or secure Zoom video visits, to provide access to, and continuity of care for their patients."

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But they have begun a slow process of moving off of a crisis footing and restarting some normal services, Roberts added.

"We have received a waiver from the state to resume elective outpatient surgeries and procedures on a limited basis," he said. "We are testing patients for COVID-19 a few days prior to their procedures, and asking them to stay home until their surgery date. We are resuming critical screening exams, such as non-emergent mammography exams and colonoscopies, and we are hopeful that we will be able to resume other services as our region moves through the phases of reopening."

The reopening process, dictated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is something Arnot and other healthcare providers have a unique role in.

They are key participants in advancing through those phases, as well as, like other service providers and businesses, looking forward to any move toward normalcy, as long as safety can be maintained.

"Since much of the reopening criteria is tied to hospital capacity and metrics around new cases and hospitalizations, Arnot shares an important responsibility with the communities it serves in Chemung, Steuben, and Schuyler counties to work together to contain the spread of COVID-19," Roberts said.

Some things, for various reasons, will never really go back to "normal" at Arnot Health -- like the rest of society, they will move to a new normal.

"We have consolidated outpatient office locations and announced [closure of] the Emergency Department (ED) on the St. Joseph’s Hospital campus [as of May 31], with all Elmira emergency being consolidated at the Arnot Ogden Medical Center ED on June 1," Roberts said. "This was a planned consolidation, but the timing was expedited due to the drop in ED volume across our system, which became financially and logistically unsustainable, with overall revenues being reduced by 50% due to the pandemic. In addition, things like social distancing, screening and testing for COVID-19 will remain in place for the foreseeable future as the world seeks effective treatments and vaccines for the virus."

As regular doctor appointments and routine screenings return as part of everyday life, Arnot is laying the groundwork to make sure longtime patients and other area residents are comfortable coming back to the group’s hospitals and other facilities when the time comes.

"We have produced TV ads to encourage patients not to avoid the hospital if they are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, stroke, or other emergency medical condition," Roberts noted. "Every person who enters one of our facilities is screened for COVID-19 with a series of risk questions and a temperature check, and any person displaying symptoms or suspected of having COVID-19 is given a mask, isolated and either tested or sent for testing. Mask use in our hospitals and facilities is also universal, and our environmental services protocols have been enhanced to include more frequent cleaning of high-traffic, high-touch areas of our facilities. In short, we want the public to know that we are taking every precaution, and utilizing all resources at our disposal, to keep them, and our caregivers safe. It’s what we do."