Atrium Health Stanly responds to pandemic with new policies

In this Monday, March 4, 2019 photo, Dr. Allison Magnuson, Geriatric Oncology and Breast Oncology at Wilmot Cancer Institute, right, speaks with patient Nancy Simpson at the Pluta Cancer Center in Rochester, N.Y. Instead of assuming that elderly patients are too frail for treatment or recommending harsh drugs tested only in younger patients, cancer doctors are taking time to evaluate their physical and mental fitness, along with emotional and social well-being. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

ALBEMARLE — Atrium Health Stanly has made a number of changes to how it is serving area residents during the COVID-19 outbreak. The hospital, located in Albemarle, is part of the larger Atrium Health system, formerly known as Carolinas HealthCare System. The system, which has 45 hospitals and 60,000 employees across North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, is coordinating their response in all locations. 

In a series of statements in March, Atrium Health announced their new policies, starting with a joint statement with Wake Forest Baptist Health and Novant Health, that they were “rescheduling non-essential surgeries, procedures and ambulatory appointments, effective Wednesday, March 18.” 

Immediately following, becoming effective March 19, new “advanced restrictions” on visitors to the hospital were announced. Only four types of visitors are allowed under the policy: patients in the Intensive Care Unit or at the end of life, patients who need a healthcare decision maker or visitor to help in communication or mobility, minor patients less than 18 years, and patients having a baby.  

Atrium also said in the release that those “with symptoms of a fever or respiratory illness symptoms, including cough or shortness of breath, should remain home.” Those visiting may be screened “for signs and symptoms of illness.” 

Those with potential cold or flu-like symptoms can get treatment, but Atrium Health asked that they contact the office from home to consult with their health providers rather than make a trip unannounced “to prevent the possible spreading of COVID-19.” 

“Atrium Health has implemented these new measures to ensure we are doing everything we can as a system to keep our patients, their loved ones and our teammates safe during these unprecedented times,” said Dr. Jim Hunter, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Atrium Health. 

To further protect valuable medical resources, Atrium Health announced on March 27 another major initiative — the COVID-19 Virtual Hospital. This program, which provides free testing, diagnoses those potentially infected by the virus remotely and then sends them a home monitoring kit if they have mild symptoms, as most do.  

“During these unprecedented times, it is critical we find innovative ways to free up beds at our hospitals for the sickest patients due to the coronavirus,” said Dr. Scott Rissmiller, chief physician executive at Atrium Health. “We recognize this program is not for seriously ill patients, but Atrium Health’s COVID-19 Virtual Hospital allows appropriate patients to receive high quality care, in the comfort and safety of their own home.” 

The home monitoring kit includes a number of tools including a pulse oximeter, a blood pressure monitor, a thermometer and step-by-step instructions for the patient to log data multiple times per day. Patients under treatment in the program will have daily access to phone consultations, virtual visits and/or in-home visits with health providers. To reach the health line for the COVID-19 Virtual Hospital, call (704-468-8888). 

“Through 24-hour monitoring, we can spot any trends or worsening symptoms and intervene early before it becomes an emergency. The COVID-19 Virtual Care Hospital is a convenient way for the patient to receive monitoring at home,” Rissmiller said. “It also allows the hospital system to reserve critical resources for those who truly need them the most.”