CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics announces new procedures related to COVID-19

New alternative clinic to screen possible cases; video appointments implemented

UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran meets with The Gazette's editorial board and reporters in Cedar Rapids in November. (Liz Mar
UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran meets with The Gazette’s editorial board and reporters in Cedar Rapids in November. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics unveiled new policies to bolster health and safety precautions in light of the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Iowa.

UIHC is now facilitating video appointments with providers and has opened a new clinic to care for patients with COVID-19 and other influenza-like symptoms, CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said in an interview with The Gazette this week.

In addition to implementing procedures to care for patients with novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, in its in-patient and out-patient facilities without spreading the respiratory virus to other patients and to staff, the hospital also has set limits on the number of visitors per patient.

These procedures were implemented not only to mitigate the risk to others should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 in the area, Gunasekaran said, but also to reassure community members and encourage them to continue accessing the health care services they need.

“The general message is that we are open for business,” Gunasekaran said. “Although this is going to be pretty scary for our community for many days and weeks, we’re confident that we can help patients get through this.

“There is cause for alarm, we do need to take special precautions as a community, but you still need to access the health care services you need and we’re a safe place together,” he said.

To date, 16 Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19. Among them are 15 people who recently traveled to Egypt on a Hills Bank-sponsored group trip.

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Another individual in Pottawattamie County who had been in California also tested positive earlier this week.

To date, more than 100 individuals have been tested for COVID-19 in Iowa, including 67 negative tests.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, 24 test results are still pending.

Beginning Wednesday, UIHC has been operating an Influenza-Like Illness Clinic, tailored specifically to diagnose and care for patients with respiratory-like symptoms, which include coughing, sneezing and a fever.

The alternative clinic has the capability to test for COVID-19 in addition to other respiratory viruses such as influenza, “safely and effectively,” according to a hospital news release.

The patients would return home to wait for results and receive guidance from providers on how to manage their symptoms.

If additional care is appropriate, patients can be directed to the emergency room, which would be alerted before the patient’s arrival.

Hospital officials declined to say where this clinic is located due to patient privacy concerns, but noted it was established on UIHC campus.

According to UIHC’s website, a maximum $30 charge would be assessed if the patient’s insurance doesn’t cover the cost of a video visit.

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Before patients come to the clinic, they are asked to participate in a video visit with a provider. Through a phone or computer screen, providers can determine the best course of action for patients with COVID-19 or other influenza-like concerns, and direct them to the alternative clinic.

Video visit hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Sunday.

Appointments can be scheduled through a patient’s MyChart account or by calling (319) 384-9010.

UIHC officials announced on Wednesday that one of the cases from Johnson County who was infected with the respiratory virus was admitted to the hospital. UIHC Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan said Wednesday afternoon “the patient appears better today than he was when he arrived last night.

With this patient’s arrival, the hospital’s special isolation unit within in-patient services was activated. This unit, with a dedicated staff and specialized equipment, has dedicated beds for COVID-19 patients and can care for patients with the most severe symptoms.

Gunasekaran told The Gazette the unit not only ensures that the COVID-19 positive patient is cared for safely and the staff is safe from infection, but it also ensures “the remainder of patients won’t have any possibility of having contact” with the infected patient.

“There’s a pretty long runway in which we could take care of inpatients who have COVID-19 positive status and still keep the remainder of hundreds of patients in beds here completely safe,” he said.

Gunasekaran also noted officials don’t believe the majority of patients who might have been exposed to COVID-19 would need to come to the emergency room, as that’s not the official guidance from state and federal public health officials.

“By the same token, if we did have an acutely ill patient exhibiting symptoms that might represent COVID-19, we have the ability to isolate that patient and take care of that patient,” he said.

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UIHC also has restricted the number of visitors per patient to two adults aged 18 and older in all locations. Exceptions may be made for patients in palliative or critical care.

According to a UIHC news release, children under the age of 18 may visit only if they are an immediate family member and “are considered by the patient’s health care team to be essential for the patient’s well-being.”

no such thing as ‘non-essential hospital staff’

It’s likely officials will have to reassess operational planning as the situation changes, and that includes decisions made with regard to staffing, Gunasekaran said. However, unlike a number of businesses, health care facilities need most of its staff on hand.

“We have to be very careful about this notion of who is non-essential staff in a hospital,” he said. “When you start looking at this in health care, it’s hard to define who is non-essential, and especially in days like this, when we have so much riding on getting it right, it feels like most everyone is essential.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include shortness of breath, coughing and sneezing and a fever.

If an individual has recently traveled to an affected country or have been in contact with someone who was diagnosed COVID-19, individuals are asked to call ahead to their medical provider before seeking medical services.

UIHC officials — along with state and federal public health agencies — continue to encourage individuals to practice good hygiene, which includes covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands often and staying home when sick.

Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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