Leaders from several southeast Houston-area hospitals said at an April 30 webinar the coronavirus pandemic has spurred the development of stringent safety procedures for patients, staff and visitors, as well as fostering conversations about future crisis preparedness.
At the webinar, which was hosted by the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, panelists from HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake, UTMB Health, Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital and Memorial Hermann spoke about how their facilities have adapted in the face of COVID-19. Several described the increased training and screening measures in place, adding these new protocols will help their facilities better respond to future public health issues.
Stephen Jones, CEO of UTMB Health - Clear Lake Campus, said community support has been essential as officials race to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
“We could not have gotten through this as a hospital and as first responders without the sacrifices of the community,” he said.
HCA Clear Lake CEO Todd Caliva said he hopes social distancing practices will carry over into “the new normal” after the pandemic, becoming part of the standard with at-risk populations.
Jones described the daily temperature checks and screenings he goes through before being permitted to come into work. He said UTMB Health physicians participate in calls seven days a week where staff discuss new policies and procedures and provide infection prevention updates. Conversations at UTMB Health are about both safely containing the coronavirus and returning to normal operations, he added.
Dan Newman, CEO of Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital, said the facility began screening its employees and visitors in mid-March and had been scaling back on elective procedures “for quite some time.”
This has created a change in dynamic at the hospital, with employees being sent home if they are not providing essential services, he said.
“This is not over by a long shot, although things are certainly improving,” Newman said of the pandemic.
Kelly Ochoa, vice president of operations for Memorial Hermann Southeast and Memorial Hermann Pearland, said the campuses are also using careful screening procedures. Ochoa spoke about the positive effects of videoconferencing software and telehealth during the health crisis: The facilities have utilized iPads to allow patients to visit with their families via Zoom, which has promoted their healing, she said. She expects telehealth to continue expanding and said it will likely be incorporated more frequently into health care practices in the long term.
Gulshan Sharma, UTMB Health’s vice president and chief medical and clinical innovation officer, stressed the importance of employers screening their workers as Texas begins to reopen. Starting May 1, retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls across the state are permitted to operate with limited occupancy.
A test similar to the one Jones described, including a temperature check and basic questions about a worker’s physical condition, is necessary for the safety of employers and consumers, he said. Coronavirus has an incubation period of several weeks, so health officials will not know until mid-May whether the disease is continuing to spread as people return to work, Sharma added.
Also starting May 1, UTMB Health will begin offering antibody tests, which can be ordered by a patient’s primary care doctor, Sharma said during the webinar. The particular test being used was selected based on its sensitivity and specificity, as not all antibody tests are effective in measuring a person’s susceptibility to the coronavirus specifically, he said.