North Olympic Peninsula hospitals adapt to COVID-19

Added precautions in place to protect patients, staff

Hospitals on the North Olympic Peninsula have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic to provide care safely to those who have respiratory complaints and those with other illnesses.

Changes include video-audio consultations, increased symptom screenings, separate waiting rooms for respiratory patients and phone consultations.

Olympic Medical Center (OMC) in Port Angeles and Sequim, Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend and Forks Community Hospital on the West End have implemented screenings for those entering hospitals and clinics and triaging them to keep possible COVID-19 patients away from those suffering from other illnesses.

Patients who have respiratory difficulties or COVID-19 symptoms are placed in separate waiting rooms from other patients, officials said.

Jefferson Healthcare

Jefferson Healthcare has expanded its remote consultation capabilities and has prioritized video-audio consultations for patients who need medical attention but don’t need to be seen in person, in addition to its in-person appointments, said Dr. Joe Mattern, chief medical officer.

“We’re really trying to find the sweet spot for this and meet patients where they’re at,” Mattern said. “We’ve had to be very flexible and kind of build a bicycle while we’re riding it.

“The video really adds an important aspect on patient care … General appearance sets the clinical picture a lot clearer.”

Jefferson Healthcare has also made COVID-19 testing available in a drive-through manner outside of the hospital, and patients who believe they need to be tested are asked to call a hotline at 360-344-3094 to schedule an appointment.

Mattern, a primary care physician, was one of the first providers to use the video consultations, and Jefferson Healthcare has been training its providers and receptionists on setting up and conducting the appointments remotely with patients.

Setting up the equipment and training personnel normally takes hospitals about four months to roll out for video consultations; Jefferson Healthcare did it in about four weeks, Mattern said.

“Heart disease, cancer … those things don’t take a break,” Mattern said. “We may not get a surge of coronavirus patients, but we could see a surge in other patients.

“We’re going to have to make sure we find a way that is part of the solution.”

Jefferson Healthcare has the ability to offer video consultations for primary, oncology, orthopedic and dermatology patients, said Mattern, who added it does not replace the need for patients who need to be seen in-person for clinical tests such as blood draws or biopsies.

Olympic Medical Center

OMC makes available video-audio consultations for patients with respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19 patients, if they are reluctant to come into the hospital or clinic, said Dr. Josh Jones, chief physician officer.

“The best care is still in clinic, face-to-face,” Jones said. “We can see anyone at our primary care or specialty clinics.”

Hospital officials said they have experienced some patients delaying needed medical care because of Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order and the fear that they could contract COVID-19.

Added screenings, separated waiting rooms and added sanitation practices have been put in place to provide barriers to contamination.

Getting medical care is still essential, and patients shouldn’t have to fear going to hospitals to get care and put off needed medical appointments, officials said.

“That was never the intent of the stay-at-home order. We need to continue to provide medical care,” Jones said. “We’re working close with our county public health officer and the other clinics to provide the same standards for patient care, and we are succeeding.”

Forks Community Hospital

Forks Community Hospital has a check-in point to triage each person who comes to the hospital, Shannon Damron, marketing and foundation coordinator, wrote in an email.

Upon being cleared, each person is given a sticker to wear when they enter any of the buildings, which include the hospital, Bogachiel Medical Clinic, Forks Family Medical Clinic, financial services, administration and physical therapy, the hospital says at www.forksthospital.org.

Those with symptoms are taken to an area designated for further screening and possible coronavirus testing.

Cloth masks are given to each patient who isn’t already wearing one at the central check-in station.

Staff members also are screened each day prior to clocking in to ensure those on-site are healthy, Damron said.

The hospital releases a daily update in English and Spanish and posts daily to its social media accounts, Damron added.

West End Outreach Services is conducting all appointments via telehealth, she said in the email.

The hospitals can be reimbursed by insurances for the video-audio calls, officials said.

Adjusting to video

Jefferson Healthcare’s providers and staff have had to adapt to the new appointments, because they now “have to do an exam in a way they’ve never done before,” Mattern said.

Jefferson Healthcare already has had dozens of video consultations since it started offering them two weeks ago, said Amy Yaley, director of communications.

“This is the week that we go pedal to the metal on it,” Yaley said.

“It’s kind of our new normal. We don’t know when this will go away.

“We still have to serve our community.”

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