Jacksonville, Fla. (April 30, 2020) – Ascension St. Vincent’s is beginning a phased, measured and clinically led process to resume elective, non-urgent surgeries and procedures at its sites of care in accordance with the first phase of Governor DeSantis’ plan to begin reopening the state.
Effective Monday, May 4, the health system will reintroduce the availability of elective surgeries while continuing efforts to serve and support patients, associates and communities impacted by COVID-19. The timing of this development will proceed in stages with guidance from federal, state and local authorities and health officials and in accordance with Ascension’s system-wide safety and infection control protocols.
“It’s important we take careful and measured steps to ensure a safe return to providing full access to healthcare services while also continuing to serve and support individuals and communities impacted by COVID-19,” said Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Huson Gilberstadt. “As these events unfold, patients can expect expanded access to healthcare services with enhanced safeguards to ensure our sites of care continue to serve as healing environments – where quality care is delivered with the highest levels of safety and compassion.”
In the meantime, all Ascension facilities—hospitals, emergency rooms, clinics and offices—will continue to implement recommended infection control precautions with enhanced safeguards to minimize the exposure risks related to COVID-19 for patients and caregivers. Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 or those suspected of having the virus continue to be placed in nursing units dedicated solely to their care, and all proper precautions are followed. Ascension facilities will maintain temporary visitor restrictions and screening protocols for individuals entering hospitals, including temperature checks for 99.5 degrees or higher. The health system will also require every patient scheduled for an elective or non-emergency surgery to undergo appropriate screening and testing for COVID-19 prior to their planned surgery date. Following their screening and testing, patients will be asked to self-quarantine until their surgery.
Additional enhanced safeguards include:
- Screening. All Ascension St. Vincent’s associates are screened for COVID-19 symptoms before they come to work, using screening tools designed to ensure they are healthy and symptom-free before entering or interacting with patients at Ascension care facilities. Additionally, the health system is providing testing to associates in procedural areas of our hospitals.
- Universal masking. Associates continue to follow all clinical protocols regarding the usage of personal protective equipment. All associates and visitors are required to wear face masks or cloth face coverings.
- Cleaning and disinfecting. Environmental services teams will continue to perform rigorous disinfecting measures at all Ascension facilities.
- Visitor restrictions. Temporary visitor restrictions were put in place to protect patients and staff. As Ascension facilities begin to reopen for elective surgeries and procedures, they will begin the process of revisiting and relaxing visitation policies to maximize safety for patients while also providing optimal social and spiritual support for healing. Effective May 4, Ascension St. Vincent’s hospitals will begin to allow one visitor per patient for patients who do not have COVID-19 or are not suspected of having the virus. For the safety of associates, patients and visitors, patients with COVID-19 or those suspected of having it will remain unable to have in-person visitors. Visitors will continue to be screened before entry and should bring their own cloth face covering or mask to wear at all times while in the facility. They will also be asked to remain in designated visitor areas or in patient rooms. The health system will continue to monitor and reassess as needed.
- Appointment scheduling. Ascension is offering staggered appointment slots to reduce the number of patients with overlapping wait times.
- Waiting room distancing. Waiting areas have been rearranged to accommodate social distancing, with fewer people so there is limited interaction with others.
- Urgent care needs. Unless it’s an emergency, patients are asked to call ahead and not to arrive unannounced at Ascension care facilities. By calling ahead, individuals can learn about and follow the safety procedures for each facility and schedule a safer time to visit.
- Offsite screening locations. Patients with non-emergency symptoms of respiratory illness are asked to call ahead before visiting Ascension care facilities. Ascension has set up separate specialty care sites designed specifically for patients with such symptoms to decrease the risk of infection at Ascension sites of care.
On March 16, Ascension St. Vincent’s began postponing and canceling elective surgeries and non-urgent medical procedures at its hospitals and sites of care as a special precaution to help prevent the spread of infection and to help manage resources and increase capacity for its system-wide response to COVID-19. Simultaneously, social distancing efforts orchestrated by federal, state and local governments were put in place to help communities “flatten the curve” and control the spread of COVID-19. During that time, Ascension hospitals continued to provide emergency surgeries and services for patients with emergency needs while also providing patients with convenient 24/7 access to providers via virtual care options and telemedicine. Now, Ascension St. Vincent’s hospitals are following the guidance and direction of federal and state authorities to begin reintroducing elective surgeries and other in-person services that were previously delayed.
“Although COVID-19 is still present, we understand that individuals in our local communities have healthcare needs outside of COVID-19,” said Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast President and CEO Tom VanOsdol. “Our ‘return to surgery’ approach is in full compliance with Governor DeSantis’ recent direction and led by our clinicians, who are working with our providers on a strategic process to keep our patients, associates and physicians safe and informed throughout this time of transition.”
With the reintroduction of elective procedures, hospital staff will begin the process of contacting patients to reschedule procedures that were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, using clinical judgment to prioritize scheduling for patients with the most immediate needs. Services will also be available for patients to take a proactive role in their health and schedule appointments and regular doctors’ visits online or over the phone. For example, Ascension Online Care offers 24/7 access to a provider via video chat. No insurance is required. Visit www.ascension.org/OnlineCare to learn more or schedule an appointment.
For individuals experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, stroke, respiratory distress, emergency mental health concerns, or other acute illness or injury, a hospital emergency room is still the safest, most appropriate place to get care. Click here to find Ascension ERs in your area.
All Ascension St. Vincent’s hospitals will continue their COVID-19 readiness and response plans to both eliminate the spread of the virus and to immediately manage any possible surge of patients in need of care for the virus. COVID-19 testing will continue to be available at all Ascension St. Vincent’s hospitals.
About Ascension St. Vincent's
In Florida, Ascension operates Ascension St. Vincent’s based in Jacksonville and Ascension Sacred Heart based in Pensacola. Together, Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast operates nine hospitals and more than 100 sites of care and employs more than 10,000 associates. Across the region, Ascension St. Vincent’s and Ascension Sacred Heart have served North Florida communities for more than 145 years. In fiscal year 2019, they provided nearly $180 million in community benefit and care of persons living in poverty. Ascension is a faith-based healthcare organization committed to delivering compassionate, personalized care to all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable. Ascension is one of the leading non-profit and Catholic health systems in the U.S., operating 2,600 sites of care – including 150 hospitals and more than 50 senior living facilities – in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Visit www.ascension.org.