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Healthcare urges patients to seek care

By Ben Rodgers

GREEN BAY – Local healthcare systems want people to know facilities are safe and patients are welcome to resume receiving routine services.

“We’re open for everyone,” said Chris Woleske, president and CEO of Bellin. “We’re doing surgical procedures based upon need and the patient’s desire to have it done now, and those are going very well. We’re continuing to reach out and make appointments for people and take calls from people who want to have their surgeries or doctor’s visits taken care of.”

Bellin, like other systems, is also giving patients options when it comes to seeing a doctor.

Woleske said patients can talk to doctors over the phone, via videoconference or come in for a visit if necessary.

“It’s one of the things I hope continues to be a method for providing care appropriately for people,” she said. “It doesn’t replace face-to-face care, but it’s certainly a great and convenient way for people to receive the sum of the care they need right from their homes.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, Woleske said a team at Bellin met daily to assess the situation on a variety of fronts, from technology, patient capacity, coronavirus trends, improved sanitation practices and more.

“At the direction of federal agencies, we put on hold these non-emergency services, the result of that was primary care, emergency room, specialty care numbers went down drastically, surgical procedure volumes went down drastically,” Woleske said. “As a community, people having great respect and wanting to protect their healthcare, knowing how important it is, they flattened the curve. People stayed home and people thought we can wait this out. Well, you can’t wait out COVID-19 for months and months and months at the expense of your health and well-being. It’s not a good trade-off. We don’t want to put people in the position to make that trade-off. We know so much more about the virus. We know what our capacities are to manage both COVID and non-COVID patients and we feel very comfortably in our ability to do that.”

Visitors receive a temperature check and questionnaire. If they don’t have a mask, they are given one. Waiting rooms have been reconfigured with social distancing in mind.

Behind the scenes, Woleske said the IT department has ramped up efforts for more connection with patients and providers, and changes to the records system.

She said all of this is done to get patients in and out as quickly as possible while still getting the healthcare they need.

Woleske said now is not the time to put off care.

“Someone could have pain that they’re not dealing with, and living with pain isn’t pleasant,” she said. “It causes other issues in your relationships with your family and friends, but in addition, unaddressed pain could be an indication of some underlying issue that could be significant.”

A knee replacement, for example, could lead to a sedentary lifestyle, Woleske said, which impacts the main issue, staying healthy during a pandemic.

“The common enemy here is COVID-19,” she said. “We all have the same goal, and the same goal is to beat COVID-19 and to preserve life and health and well-being in the process, helping people to get back to a place where life can become a little bit more normal again is clearly in all of our best interests.”

Woleske said those steps were taken due to concerns over what the virus could become.

“There were all kinds of models that were out there, and the Trump administration’s Coronavirus Task Force was relying on a model that was taking various inputs and predicting when a peak would occur and what the demands on hospitals would be,” Woleske said. “The models were wrong. Part of it is related to the fact that as people, we responded, and we started to stay home more and we started behaving differently in the face of a virus like this. That made a huge difference. We in healthcare got ready for it and were really well-prepared in case it happened, but it didn’t happen.”

HSHS St. Vincent Hospital and HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center in Green Bay is also open and available to provide all types of emergency medical care, 24/7, regardless of the current public health crisis.

“We urge our community members to never forgo or delay seeking medical care for any type of emergency, even in the midst of a pandemic,” said Dr. Kyle McCarty, emergency medicine physician for HSHS hospitals in eastern Wisconsin. “We have highly-skilled, compassionate providers ready to care for you and protocols in place to prevent the spread of all infectious diseases, including COVID-19.”

Initial healthcare impact

Dr. Rachael Vanden Langenberg, a family medicine physician with Bellin, said things were different for a while after the virus arrived.

She said emergency department volumes dipped 50 percent and family medicine saw a similar decline.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like that before,” Vanden Langenberg said. “It was weird when I was at work with not a lot to do. It was like I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’m used to kind of going from the time I walk in the door to the time I leave, working through lunch and not getting any breathers throughout the day, so having that downtime was kind of eerie at first.”

It didn’t last long as Vanden Langenberg and other doctors were put through training, if they were needed in the emergency department or inpatient units.

Doctors at Bellin also spent time connecting with recovering COVID-19 patients remotely to follow up and check in with others.

For the past few weeks, Vanden Langenberg said Bellin has been getting back to a normal workload with increased telehealth capabilities, but physical visits are an option now.

“Bellin is taking every step possible to make sure patients are safe when they come to the clinic, and that we really care about their general health,” she said. “We’re not just about treating COVID right now. We need to get patients back in to make sure their routine health conditions are being managed. If they are really uncomfortable coming to the clinic, the video visits are a great alternative for most conditions.”

One change Vanden Langenberg said she likes is being thanked on a daily basis for her work.

“Historically, I feel like people have had almost a negative attitude toward healthcare providers, a lot of them thinking we’re in it for the money or we got the insurance companies or big pharma in our ears pointing us in whatever direction they want us to go,” she said. “I think it’s nice to have people realize we are here to help them, we’re willing to sacrifice our own health to take care of people. I get thanked on a daily basis now for doing what I’m doing and that didn’t happen before all of this.”

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