The first of Sentara’s five commitments to patients, “ALWAYS keep you safe,” has been a guiding principle since the hospital opened in 1904, and continues to be a primary focus at Sentara Martha Jefferson during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the start of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and the Virginia state government provided almost nonstop messaging relating to the virus. They encouraged everyone to stay home, limit close contact with others by maintaining social distancing of at least six feet, and avoid being in groups of more than 10 people.
In keeping with these mandates—and to protect patients, hospital staff and the public—Sentara Martha Jefferson severely limited visitation in the hospital in the early weeks of the pandemic and encouraged people with suspected COVID-19 infection to avoid coming to the Emergency Department without first calling their primary care physician. In addition, nearly all nonelective medical and surgical procedures were suspended, and the vast majority of outpatient clinic visits were conducted online as virtual/telemedicine consults through computers or smartphones.
With those early measures in mind, it's understandable that as restrictions are lifted and we transition back to our “new normal,” patients might have some hesitation about returning and seeking medical help in person. While we are all adjusting to these new circumstances, the most important message we want to convey to the community is this: Your safety is our top priority.
What We Are Doing to Keep You Safe
As we have continued to live with the pandemic, the hospital has relaxed its visitation policy somewhat, Sentara Martha Jefferson outpatient clinics are now providing more face-to-face appointments, and elective or nonessential surgeries and other procedures are again being offered—all in keeping with Gov. Northam’s recommendations for implementing a phased reopening of the commonwealth. Be assured that our hospital, Emergency Department and outpatient clinics are all open for business, and that it is safe to come in for care when you need our services.
“Our community has done a great job with social distancing and flattening the curve,” says Paul Tesoriere, MD, FHM, FACP, vice president of medical affairs for Sentara Martha Jefferson. “We have hospital capacity and have fine-tuned our processes to function more normally and safely in the presence of COVID. The United States has seen a decline recently in patients presenting with heart attacks and strokes, and in cancer screenings. However, this decline doesn’t mean these conditions are disappearing—more likely is that patients are avoiding care. Ultimately, this dangerous trend could prove to be as impactful as the COVID pandemic itself.”
The Emergency Department (ED) is an essential part of Sentara Martha Jefferson’s patient services, and delaying treatment for any medical emergency—during a pandemic or not—is dangerous. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, you should come to the ED without delay. Medical emergencies requiring immediate attention in the ED include suspected heart attack or stroke, serious injuries, high fever, and other worsening or concerning symptoms.
When you enter the ED, you can expect to be separated from others immediately, based on the likelihood of COVID-19 infection. You will be met by a staff member dressed in appropriate personal protective equipment, and you will be given a mask to wear, if you do not already have one. You will go through a screening process, and patients who have any suspicious symptoms will be kept separate from all others entering the ED for other medical reasons.
To protect patients admitted for disease processes unrelated to COVID-19, we have implemented stringent safeguards within the hospital to reduce their risk of contracting the virus during hospitalization.
Visitors to the hospital, as well as those with face-to-face appointments in our Sentara Medical Group clinics, can expect to undergo a screening process before being allowed to enter medical facilities. They also may be asked to wear a mask while they are in the building and to observe social distancing recommendations.
In addition, we have made changes to our physical environments to help ensure safety. Waiting rooms now contain fewer chairs, magazines and books have been removed, and ongoing cleaning of high-touch surfaces is taking place throughout the day as patients come and go.
Staff members are following strict guidelines as well, practicing frequent hand-washing and wearing masks to protect patients, co-workers and themselves from the potential spread of the virus.
Safety is Everyone’s Primary Concern
“We want to assure patients that it is safe to come to the doctor’s office,” says Bruce Clemons, MD, FACP, executive director of primary care services for the Sentara Blue Ridge Region. “Our staff and providers have made every effort to ensure the safety of patients while they’re in our facilities. We will continue to use virtual care, when appropriate, to decrease the number of people in an office at any given time. However, there are still going to be many patients who need to be seen in person, and we don’t want them to delay care due to concerns about safety.”
Rest assured that Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital and the Sentara Medical Group remain firmly dedicated to the safety of patients, visitors and staff. We commit to ALWAYS keep you safe.
The latest information on the COVID-19 pandemic, including our latest visitation policy, can be found at sentara.com/safe.
Cleaning Protocols in Effect
Our protocols for the healthcare setting meet or exceed national COVID-19 guidelines.
•We use CDC-recommended protocols for cleaning and managing everything from bathrooms, light fixtures and furniture to medical waste, laundry and food-service utensils.
•We use comprehensive, multistep checklists to clean patient rooms in all of our facilities between each visit and at the end of each day.
•Our detailed checklists ensure we are both aware of and diligently following our cleaning requirements, including how to sanitize high-touch areas and other surfaces, how to safely wear and remove personal protective equipment, and how to use our UV light disinfection technology.
•We routinely clean common areas and wipe down shared objects such as pens, doorknobs and chairs with EPA-approved cleaning supplies between each use.