Advocate Aurora Health unveiled on Thursday a plan for regaining patient confidence as the system begins to resume elective procedures at its Wisconsin facilities.
Milwaukee- and Downers, Grove, Illinois-based Advocate Aurora has slowly increased its radiology services across the health system, along with some elective procedures in Wisconsin, this week. It plans to resume elective procedures in Illinois next week.
System leaders said on a call with reporters Thursday that the timing for lifting restrictions will vary across its sites as they assess the prevalence of COVID-19, hospitalization rates and supplies and equipment levels.
Advocate Aurora is among a group of Milwaukee-area health systems urging patients to not put off non-coronavirus-related preventive and routine visits amid the pandemic. Chief nursing officer Mary Beth Kingston estimated that the system has seen a roughly 50% decrease in patient volumes during the pandemic.
"There's a fair amount of people out there that have delayed care," she said.
In Wisconsin, the system reported on Thursday it has 1,189 active COVID-19 cases, including 98 inpatient. While cases have largely plateaued over the past month, chief medical officer Dr.Gary Stuck said they haven’t yet decreased to a level that would allow the system to lift all restrictions at once.
Stuck added that the system currently has enough personal protective equipment, but it “continues to be an area of focus” as it resumes elective procedures and ambulatory visits.
“I know we're all eager to resume operations and see our patients back for their care,” Stuck said. “We are committed to doing just that in a safe and thoughtful way through a phased approach, allowing us to carefully turn the dial and reactivate areas that were put on hold during this pandemic.”
Advocate Aurora is implementing a five-pronged approach to increase safety measures as patients begin returning for elective procedures. They include:
Additionally, every patient who is seeking an elective surgery will be tested for COVID-19, Stuck said.
Kingston said the system has significantly increased its testing capacity over the past few weeks at Advocate Aurora-owned ACL Laboratories, with a capacity of about 1,500 tests daily and a 24-hour turnaround time for results.
Earlier this week, the system announced it would begin serologic antibody testing to identify recovered COVID-19 patients that can donate convalescent plasma and for epidemiological research. Antibody testing is currently limited to patients who have an order from an Advocate Aurora physician.
“We do think that this has great promise in helping to understand the spread of this virus,” said chief nursing officer Mary Beth Kingston.
Chief marketing officer Kelly Jo Golson said the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the system’s use of telemedicine. In January, the system set a goal of doubling its virtual visits across its footprint. In four months, it has seen a seven-fold increase in visits. In that same time, the number of Advocate Aurora providers offering virtual care has grown from about 300 to 1,700, Golson said.
- Requiring everyone who enters its facilities to wear a mask. Those who don’t have them will be provided with them.
- Taking the temperature of everyone who enters its facilities and asking questions about symptoms and exposure.
- Rearranging waiting areas, including having patients wait in their car until their appointment time, and staggering appointment times to reduce traffic.
- Implementing virtual check-ins with digital devices for low-contact arrivals.
- Adding additional cleaning precautions in all areas and added hand-washing and sanitizer stations.
"COVID forced us to transform how we delivered care, but not all of that's bad," Stuck said. "By transforming and moving into the virtual space, we've developed capabilities now that we're not going to let go."
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