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Preparing for Surgery During COVID-19

Written by William Pierce, MD on in LVMC News

Needing surgery or a procedure during the COVID-19 pandemic may cause anxiety in some people. As the LVMC Chief of Staff and a surgeon, I want to assure you that the highest measures possible are being taken to ensure your safety -- and ours -- during this pandemic. We know you probably have questions, and it’s important that you have those answered. If you’re uncertain about something, please ask your surgeon or primary care physician.

Needing surgery or a procedure during the COVID-19 pandemic may cause anxiety in some people. As the LVMC Chief of Staff and a surgeon, I want to assure you that the highest measures possible are being taken to ensure your safety -- and ours -- during this pandemic. We know you probably have questions, and it’s important that you have those answered. If you’re uncertain about something, please ask your surgeon or primary care physician.

Question: Why has LVMC decided that it is safe to schedule elective surgeries and procedures? 

Answer: During the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, LVMC temporarily suspended elective surgeries and procedures. This measure was put in place to make sure we had adequate inpatient beds, should there be a surge in COVID-19 positive patients. Elective surgeries and procedures are now taking place, with specific pre-operative procedures to be followed. LVMC has not had any in-hospital transmission of COVID-19.

Question: Should I have an elective surgery at this time? 

Answer: Every patient is unique, so there is no generalized answer to this question. Please talk to your doctor and surgeon about your concerns, and whether or not it is safe for your health if you postpone. 

Question: When I come to pre-register, do I need to come into the hospital? 

Answer: Yes, you will need to sign a number of documents, and provide specific insurance information. You will undergo screening prior to entering the registration area. Social distancing and mask-use are strictly enforced. 

Question: What safety measures are in place for check-in? 

Answer: At the main entrance to LVMC, a screening protocol is in place. Everyone, including staff, is screened for symptoms of the virus. Also, a hands-free temperature reading is conducted for everyone entering LVMC. Our Infection Control team requires patients to have a hospital-grade mask. In the registration area, chairs, door handles, and the desk are wiped down with disinfectant between patients. Patients suspected of having COVID-19, or expressing symptoms, are directed to our Emergency Department. Hand sanitizer is available throughout the building. 

Question: Will I be with others in the waiting room? If so, how is social distancing enforced? 

Answer: Following guidance from the Santa Barbara County Health Officer, LVMC currently does not allow any visitors into the hospital except in certain circumstances. The waiting rooms are not in use as they have been in the past. In seating areas, chairs have been removed or taped-off to allow for adequate spacing and social distancing. If they are used by anyone, they have cleaned afterward.

Question: Do I have to take a COVID-19 test before my surgery? Who pays for that, and where do I go? How will I get results?  

Answer: Yes, you will get a COVID test several days before the procedure, which will not cost you anything. Results will be given to you by the ordering surgeon’s office.

Question: What happens the day of the operation to ensure my safety from COVID-19 exposure? 

Answer: We will do everything possible to isolate you from any other patients.  No COVID-positive patients are undergoing elective surgery. Masks and social distancing are also used to reduce exposure.

Question: In the operating room, how am I protected? What special precautions are being taken to make sure the operating room is safe from COVID-19?  

Answer: The operating rooms are cleaned in a special way between cases to eradicate all possible bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19.   In addition, operating room staff are using N-95 protective gear whenever there is any possibility of COVID-19 exposure.

Question: How can I be sure the hospital staff are free from infection?

Answer: All staff are asked a series of questions about possible symptoms every time they enter the hospital. Staff are asked to report any changes in health during a shift, and temperatures are taken every time they enter the hospital. Any staff who are symptomatic or test positive are not permitted into the hospital to work.

Question: Are the staff in the OR also helping treat COVID patients? 

Answer:  Only those patients who have COVID and need emergency (non-elective) surgery.  This has not been a common occurrence so far at LVMC.

Question: If I have to stay overnight in the hospital, am I going to be in a room near COVID-19 positive patients? 

Answer: No, there is a special area set aside on the Medical-Surgical unit for patients who have COVID-19 or who are awaiting COVID test results.

Question: If COVID patients are being treated in the hospital, how do I know I am safe from exposure?

Answer: LVMC has strict infection prevention protocols in place, as we have previously, to protect not only our patients but our staff and physicians. We have isolation rooms for patients who are positive with COVID-19 and we limit the number of staff and amount of equipment entering those rooms.

Question: If I stay overnight, is it safe to eat meals prepared at the hospital? 

Answer: Yes, it is safe to eat meals prepared by the hospital. Prior to each kitchen shift, staff use safety protocols such as wearing a hairnet and facemask. All dietary staff wash hands prior to putting new gloves on and taking them off. These requirements are strictly enforced in the kitchen at LVMC. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted through food even if someone nearby were to cough or sneeze.

Question: Does the hospital have enough Personal Protective Equipment for Staff? Does your PPE ensure the highest level of safety? 

Answer: Yes.  We are adequately stocked with N-95 masks, isolation gowns, face shields, and other protective gear.

Question: As I recover, will having this procedure or surgery put me at a higher risk of getting COVID-19? Why or why not?

Answer: Having elective surgery or a procedure does not increase your risk of contracting COVID-19. We maintain the highest level of infection prevention procedures and continually screen all staff and people entering the hospital. 

Question: Can I have visitors at the hospital while I recover? 

Answer: The ability to have visitors in the hospital has been a fluid situation since March. At this time, visitors are prohibited from entering our hospital, and all other hospitals in the county, by the authority of the Santa Barbara County Health Officer. There are a few exceptions, such as for pediatric patients, women in labor, for patients with developmental disabilities, physical disabilities or cognitive impairment who require assistance, or for those patients on comfort or hospice care. There may be exceptions made as well for allowing the signing of legal documents by a patient. If an exception is made, the visitor will be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 before entering the hospital.

Question: If I can’t have visitors, how will my family be updated?

Answer: You will be able to provide a telephone number for your contact person, and a medical staff member will provide updates as soon as possible. If you are having outpatient surgery or a procedure, you will be able to coordinate the details of your drop-off and pickup with a support person before your surgery or procedure.

Question: What can I do before and after surgery to lower my risk of contracting COVID-19?

Answer: As each patient and case are different, be sure to ask your physician for specific advice related to your situation. In general, it may be recommended that you quarantine yourself from other family members and friends for some time, especially for those who leave home to go to work, use public transportation or have contact with a larger group of people (such as someone working in a grocery store). You can always lower your risk of infection by frequent, thorough handwashing, or liberal use of hand sanitizer. You can continue practicing social distancing and wear a mask when you are near others.

Question: Are TeleVisit appointments available to me or my care team before or after my operation?

Answer: Yes, TeleVisits can be arranged with any doctor at LVMC if a patient is unable to come to the clinic for any reason. Post-operative patients need to be seen in person; however, whenever possible. 

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Author: William Pierce, MD, Chief of Staff

Dr. William Pierce is a board-certified general surgeon and was elected Chief of Medical Staff by the LVMC Medical Staff. He received his medical degree from the UC Davis School of Medicine and completed a General Surgery residency at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics. Dr. Pierce joined the staff of Lompoc Valley Medical Center in August of 2003 coming from Mason City, Iowa. His specialties include laparoscopic surgery, colon cancer, breast cancer, endoscopy, and thoracoscopy.