By Elissa Bass
Hartford HealthCare quietly opened its state-of-the-art primary care and multispecialty HealthCenter in Mystic at the end of January. Doctors and staff moved into offices, the physical therapy center was furnished with equipment, the imaging machines went online, and patients began to flow into the three-story, glass-front building.
By the end of February, coronavirus was becoming a major concern in the Northeast. Plans for an official grand opening in the spring were put on hold, but it was — and is — business as usual for the groups in the building. (Business as usual, however, has a new definition in the midst of a pandemic, as Hartford HealthCare implements strict safety protocols systemwide to keep patients, physicians and staff safe from infection.)
Mystic HealthCare HealthCenter, on Perkins Farm Drive, is home to primary care, cardiology and vascular services, neuromuscular services, neurosurgery, pain management, movement disorders, imaging and rehabilitation therapy. Each of the departments have implemented HHC virus protocols. At the building’s main entrance, a station has been set up where everyone is screened with the appropriate coronavirus screening questions and a temperature check prior to entering. The public is also required to wear a mask or face covering while in the building.
In the physical/occupational therapy wing, appointment times have been adjusted to limit the number of staff and patients, ensuring that social distancing is observed during treatments, said Anthony Falcigno, Regional Director, East Region Rehabilitation Network. “Pre-appointment calls are made to each patient the day before their scheduled appointment where they are asked the same screening questions and provided instructions for attending their appointments, including the need for using a mask or face covering at all times,” he said.
Additionally, all equipment is sanitized between patient visits, and whenever possible, patients are seen via Telehealth.
At the Chase Family Movement Disorders Center, the majority of patients are being seen via virtual health, said Jessica Woodruff, Practice Manager for the Center. The Center, which works with patients with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders, is also providing extra time between in-office patient visits to ensure thorough sanitation, and patients are being pre-screened for symptoms prior to their visit.
For neurosurgery and pain management patients, “We are seeing patients as long as they are coming in with a mask on and appointments are being spaced out to limit the amount of patients kept in the waiting room,” said Jennifer Mitchell, Hartford HealthCare’s East Region Practice Manager. All the HHC protocols for screening prior to an in-office visit are also being followed, she noted.
The Heart & Vascular Institute is also doing pre-appointment screening, day-of screening, and universal masking, said Tori Tyler, Regional Director for the Institute. Additionally, she said the furniture in the waiting area has been rearranged or removed for maximum social distancing, and patients are greeted there and brought to a room immediately so there is no concentration of people in the waiting area.
The primary care doctors are using virtual health visits whenever possible and have implemented all the HHC coronavirus protocols, said Sherri Clarke, Practice Manager for HHCMG Mystic/HHCMG Mystic Concierge/HHCMG New London.
The imaging department, in addition to HHC standard protocols, has designated hallways “one-way” to increase social distancing, provide patients with a staff escort to ensure that protocols are followed, and implemented a text message communication system to allow patients to use their car as the waiting room, said Rafal Sadowski, Quality and Safety Manager, of Hartford HealthCare’s Central Region.
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