BENNINGTON — Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has postponed all non-urgent appointments and procedures, further restricted visitors, and closed its Putnam Cafe to minimize the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring safety for patients and their families, the hospital said in a statement.
"We have a dedicated and talented team of professionals here," said Tom Dee, SVHC's president and CEO. "We are making changes that allow them to focus their complete attention on reducing the impact of COVID-19 in our community."
Beginning Thursday, SVMC practices and inpatient departments have postponed non-urgent visits and procedures until at least April 5, SVMC said. Office staff will notify patients directly. Most well visits and annual exams will be postponed, but somewhat urgent needs — such as follow-up visits or appointments to address the need for changes to medications — will be evaluated and held at the discretion of the provider.
Appointments for acute problems will be scheduled. Lab studies, imaging, and physical therapy will continue, using social distancing and other techniques to minimize exposure, the hospital said.
According to Trey Dobson, MD, SVMC's chief medical officer, the decision to postpone non-urgent appointments was based on recommendations and federal guidelines, the need to ensure patient and staff safety, to mitigate the spread, and to allow for the reallocation of resources to the areas of greatest need.
"SVMC is committed to our community, and the health and safety of our patients," said Dobson. "We believe that this decision is the best way to provide care right now."
Visitors policy updated
Revising its visitor policy to align with Gov. Phil Scott's recommendations, SVMC has reduced visiting hours in all hospital areas to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Visitation is limited to one symptom-free individual per patient at a time.
Patients on the Women's and Children's Unit are allowed one visitor, with prior notice, during the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., in addition to the second parent, who is welcome 24 hours a day. Due to risks associated with flu and COVID-19, siblings are not able to visit at this time.
Complete details will be given to visitors as they check in, and are available from svhealthcare.org/ COVID-19/VisitorGuidelines.
As previously announced, no non-medical visits are allowed at the Centers for Living and Rehabilitation on SVMC's Bennington Campus or at the Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Hoosick Falls.
"While we understand the comfort patients receive through visitors, we also need to prioritize safety," said Dee. "These are necessary steps to reduce the spread of the virus."
Closure of Putnam Cafe
In response to Scott's executive order that restaurants and bars discontinue seated service, the Putnam Cafe, the hospital's on-campus restaurant, has closed to the public. Visitors can use a coffee machine outside the Cafe and vending machines in the West Wing waiting area. Meals for employees will continue at an alternative location.
A COVID-19 information hotline, 802-440-8844, includes the most commonly requested information delivered via a recorded message. A representative answers between the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.
SVMC recommends primary care providers as the best source for individual guidance and information. The hotline offers support for primary care providers and ensures those who do not have a provider get the information and services they need.
Patients and visitors to the hospital and medical office building are asked to stop at the respiratory etiquette check-in, where they will be greeted and asked whether they have a cough, fever, or shortness of breath. Those with symptoms are given a mask, and all are given a sticker with the date and which department or unit they are visiting.
For patients who have a referral for COVID-19 testing from their primary care provider, SVMC offers drive-up testing. The service allows patients to remain in their cars. Clinical staff wear personal protective equipment, swab patients in their cars, and remind patients to practice self-isolation until results are known. Samples are sent to the Vermont lab for results, which typically arrive to the primary care provider within 96 hours. The state of Vermont is not charging for the test, and the patient will not incur Emergency Department charges.
Complete COVID-19 information, including frequently asked questions and helpful resources, is available at svhealthcare.org/covid-19. The site is updated continuously, SVMC said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 19 cases of COVID-19 were reported in Vermont.