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Walla Walla Clinic adjusts services through pandemic

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Walla Walla Clinic
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Non-urgent surgeries and procedures at hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, dental and other clinics across the state have been suspended until May 18, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday.

The change, which had already been adopted by Providence St. Mary Medical Center, further pivots care at Walla Walla Clinic’s ambulatory surgery center. Until Inslee’s proclamation the clinic had been continuing to offer surgeries based on guidelines that allowed certain procedures.

“We plan to comply with (the) proclamation and only proceed with those surgical cases that meet the outlined criteria,” Walla Walla Clinic CEO Kevin Michelson said. “Our previous decision to perform outpatient surgical cases was based on desire to meet an ongoing community need.”

The step by the governor is made in an effort to preserve personal protective equipment as care providers operate through a shortage in the supply chain.

The adjustment is one in a long line of changes as daily — even sometimes hourly — shifts are made in health care and other industries to curtail transmission of the novel coronavirus.

The Tietan Street clinic does not have coronavirus testing available there but does treat patients with respiratory and COVID-19 symptoms.

Michelson said as an outpatient clinic the operation had limited access to COVID-19 testing supplies and kits.

“It’s something we would love to be able to offer in the future, if it becomes available,” he said.

Patients who arrive with an expectation of being tested will find the clinic doesn’t have kits. Screening, however, continues to take place. Patients may be referred to St. Mary for potential testing, but in the majority of cases would not be admitted with primary symptoms alone.

One effect on operations such as Walla Walla Clinic is how to process sick patients with flu-like symptoms.

Michelson said those patients should call ahead and talk with their care team before visiting the facilities.

A number of other changes have taken place, Michelson outlined:

  • Well visits and preventative testing continue to be offered, but scheduled patients are given options of rescheduling for a later date when appropriate.
  • Visitors to the facilities will be restricted. One healthy support person for adult patients and up to two parents or guardians are allowed for pediatric patients. All patients and visitors are screened upon entering or check-in. Starting today all visitors will be restricted in non-clinical departments such as Business Services, IT and Medical Records.
  • The Walk-in Clinic and laboratory will operate off scheduled appointments only to reduce number of patients in waiting rooms.
  • Starting Monday, allergy patients requiring shots/injections will need to schedule appointments.
  • The weekly Blood Pressure Clinic has been suspended until further notice.
  • On weekends and after hours, all patients (except pediatrics) must enter through the Walk-in Clinic entrance and be screened.
  • Outpatient surgical procedures will only continue in the ambulatory surgery center based on latest guidelines for patients. Additional screening protocols have been implemented to protect patients and staff.
  • New telehealth and e-visit solutions are in development for COVID-19 screening and evaluation, plus patients with ongoing care needs.

The governor’s proclamation clarified hospitals and ambulatory surgical facilities may proceed with surgeries that if delayed or canceled would result in the patient’s condition worsening. Examples provided were removal of a serious cancerous tumor or dental care related to the relief of pain and management of infection.

Ambulatory surgical facilities are also encouraged to work with local hospitals to assist with surge capacity needs, the governor’s document said.

Michelson said the operation continues to evaluate best practices to serve the community within guidelines established through the pandemic.

“We’re trying to respond as cautiously as possible,” he said. “There are going to be ongoing care needs.”

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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