'We do not have much room for growth': A GI center's plans for the next 12 months amid the pandemic

Bobbi Freeman, RN, the gastroenterology endoscopy and GI lab manager of Harbin Clinic Endoscopy Center in Rome, Ga., outlines how her center is resuming operations during the pandemic and what it expects in the next year.

Question: What is your plan for resuming elective procedures in the future?

Bobbi Freeman: We resumed operations in mid-May. We are an endoscopy-only ASC and we are selecting procedures based on priority tiering as mandated and physician approval. We have expanded our provider block days to allow for more provider availability. We started with scheduling patients 45 minutes apart rather than our usual 30 to allow for additional room turnover time and increased social distancing.

We are screening all patients at time of scheduling with COVID-19 screening questions, again at one week before, again the day before, and then again at arrival to the center. Patients are instructed to call the GI lab when they arrive and a nurse will advise them when to come to a special entrance for screening. All family members/drivers are to remain in the car. The patient is checked in after screening and brought directly to the GI lab pre/post op room. All patients are given a surgical mask, all staff wear surgical masks (or N95 if in the procedure or reprocessing rooms) and surgical caps.

During the procedure and reprocessing all staff wear face shields as well. The patient rooms and restrooms are disinfected after each use and the procedure rooms are terminally cleaned. We have removed all non-essential equipment and supplies from the procedure rooms as well.

Q: How has the pandemic affected your plan for growth in the next 6 to 12 months?

BF: We are a very busy center running about as efficiently as we can. We do not have much room for growth. Our surgery center is at capacity for pre/post op and procedure rooms. The only thing we could do to grow would be to offer extended hours and weekend services. As of right now, we do not have an immediate plan for that. If the COVID-19 crisis continues or we have a resurgence, we may have to consider that option in an effort to remain open.

Q: What does the "new normal" look like for ASCs?

BF: We are trying very hard to get back to 'business as usual' but the unusual circumstances of this pandemic are making that very difficult. As long as we do not have COVID-19 positive exposure or potential exposure, I feel like we will be able to continue to keep our center open for urgent and semi-urgent endoscopic procedures.

Hopefully we will be able to perform routine endoscopies by the late summer or fall. Of course, this is all subjective. A good analogy that I have heard with relation to how healthcare workers are having to deal with this COVID-19 pandemic is like trying to change the tire on a bus that is driving down the road. I think that sums it up pretty accurately.

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