What our local healthcare providers have to say
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have been turned upside down in many ways. Things that were simply part of regular life have become either difficult or impossible. With the disruption to our healthcare system, even our access to doctors, dentists, and hospitals has been limited or avoided due to safety concerns.
Now restrictions are starting to loosen up a little, and we wanted to hear from our medical community how the pandemic has affected their practices and what the immediate future holds for their patients. The good news is most providers are open and welcoming patients. Doctors are reassuring patients that office visits are safe, and fear of contracting COVID-19 should not discourage anyone from visiting their provider for any reason, including routine check ups, vaccinations, and — don’t forget — it’s time for sports physicals!
What kind of surgeries were delayed due to the pandemic and how are you moving forward with them now?
We have moved to expanded care, with abundance of caution. Fauquier Health is limiting patient volume for resuming elective and non-urgent procedures, and continues to assess the situation on a week-by-week basis. The process of restarting these services is gradual and we remain committed to conserving critical supplies and ensuring a safe environment for all patients, providers, and employees. At Fauquier Health, patients should not have to decide between health and safety. Rest assured that we would not have resumed elective and non-urgent procedures if we didn’t have the resources and processes in place to do so safely. You can rely on your medical team to keep you protected while addressing your medical needs. Medical imaging services, including MRI services, are one of the services that have begun resuming. —Fauquier Health Hospital Spokeswoman Sarah Cubbage
All elective surgeries were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and we are not yet performing them as we have not yet seen a 14-day decline in local COVID-19 cases as required in Governor Northam’s guidelines for resuming elective procedures. However, as of May 11, we have resumed medically necessary, time-sensitive procedures that were initially paused in mid-March. Imaging, labs and other appointments to support these procedures have also resumed. –Stephen Smith, MD, president and chief operating officer, Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center and Haymarket Medical Center.
What kind of precautions are you taking to keep patients safe?
Fauquier Health has taken the following measures in accordance with CDC guidelines: enacted a zero-visitation policy and strict facility access restrictions, requiring mandatory health screenings for all entering the hospital, and providing personal protective equipment and hand hygiene products. We have also cancelled or postponed all community events at the Fauquier Health Conference Center, and closed the Bistro on the Hill to outside patrons. Fauquier Health requests all patients and approved visitors wear a face mask covering when entering any Fauquier Health system building. Additionally, patients should expect to not see other patients while here. We are trying to minimize overlap in an effort to promote social distancing, conserve resources, and protect the safety of all of our patients and employees. —Fauquier Health Hospital Spokeswoman Sarah Cubbage
We have added heightened safety measures such as temperature screenings for everyone entering our facilities, universal masking, enhanced cleaning processes, and increased resources to infection prevention teams. Every patient having a medically necessary, time-sensitive procedure undergoes pre admission testing, which includes testing for Coronavirus. In addition, to ensure physical distancing and address clinical safety concerns, we’ve lowered the number of patients in clinics at one time and reduced the use of waiting rooms. We require all patients come to their appointments with a mask or face covering. Patients who arrive without a mask are provided one upon entering our facilities. —Stephen Smith, MD, president and chief operating officer, Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center and Haymarket Medical Center.
Are you prioritizing any particular type of elective surgeries and if so, which ones?
The decisions about which procedures can safely move forward will be made only after assessing a comprehensive pre-operative checklist and evaluating potential risks. The hospital will initially focus on scheduling patients with more time-sensitive health needs, and those decisions will be made in partnership with the attending physician/surgeon/proceduralist. Patients who are scheduled and approved for procedures must meet specific requirements, including passing standard COVID-19 screenings. —Fauquier Health Hospital Spokeswoman Sarah Cubbage
Our priority right now is on medically necessary, time-sensitive procedures. We’re prioritizing rescheduling patients who have had appointments and procedures postponed since March. Each case goes through a review and scoring process by a panel of physicians in order to ensure that our facilities have the resources available to handle these cases along with any potential rise in COVID-19 cases in the community. —Stephen Smith, MD, president and chief operating officer, Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center and Haymarket Medical Center.
How are you handling outpatient/inpatient visitors?
Upon arrival at the facility, patients are required to hand sanitize, complete a temperature check, are asked the same standard screening questions and provided with a cloth mask (if they do not already have one). We continue to operate under a zero-visitor protocol, so family members/spouse/friends/caregivers are not permitted to enter the hospital. We gather their contact information so we can follow up with them to provide an update after the procedure and share instructions for pick up. —Fauquier Health Hospital Spokeswoman Sarah Cubbage
Visitation for hospital patients has been restricted, except for laboring mothers and patients who are minors (under age 18). We request that patients come alone to office appointments unless necessary (e.g., patients who are minors or who have ambulatory issues). If visitors are required and cannot wait in the car: only one visitor may accompany each patient; visitors must be healthy (no cough, fever or flu-like symptoms); visitors must be 13 or older, unless they are seeking medical care; visitors are asked to wait in the exam room with the patient. —Stephen Smith, MD, president and chief operating officer, Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center and Haymarket Medical Center.
Can you comment on the importance of keeping up with regular well visits, physicals, and vaccinations which may have been neglected during the quarantine?
Initially there was great reluctance to come to the office. But we’ve implemented health and sanitization protocols, and we know physician offices are safe now. It’s time to get caught up with routine office visits, routine lab work, and checkups. —Steven Von Elten, M.D., Piedmont Family Practice
We certainly saw a drop in people coming in for well visits and physicals initially. There’s a significant concern that we are going to witness a reemergence of vaccine preventable illnesses such as measles and whooping cough. The worst thing possible would be the reemergence of other illnesses because we let our guards down with our focus on something new. We have to maintain those well visits for those vaccination preventable illnesses. —Joshua Jakum, M.D., Piedmont Pediatrics
Even with the COVID pandemic going on, it is still important to keep up with routine yearly check-ups and chronic disease follow up visits as well as vaccinations. There are many people who are not going to the doctor because they are concerned about getting an illness, but then they neglect their general health which also causes significant problems. —Dr. Julian Hoang, DO, Lifetime Family Medicine
Are you seeing people neglecting health issues due to COVID-19?
Absolutely. There are reports of people with chest pain staying home, which can be very dangerous. There are concerns that there will be cancers that will have a delayed diagnosis because we’re neglecting routine checkups. It’s time to get over the fear of going to the doctor or to the hospital. —Steven Von Elten, M.D., Piedmont Family Practice
We certainly saw a drop in people coming in for well visits and physicals initially. That has thankfully changed as our staff has reached out to families to encourage them to come in. —Joshua Jakum, M.D., Piedmont Pediatrics
There are many people who are not going to the doctor because they are concerned about getting an illness, but then they neglect their general health which also causes significant problems. By keeping up with routine office visits, we ensure that at least some of those problems are caught before they reach a dangerous point. —Dr. Julian Hoang, DO, Lifetime Family Medicine
Can you comment on sports physicals, and why they should be scheduled soon?
Absolutely this is the time to do it. You can’t put it off because it’s going to get too crowded. I’m starting to tell patients to come on in. —Steven Von Elten, M.D., Piedmont Family Practice
Yes, this is the season we get all the athletes in. It’s best to do it sooner rather than later because appointment slots will be filling up. The other important thing about sports physicals is that sometimes it’s the only time we see teenagers in the office; they usually only come in with sports injuries or when they’re sick. So it’s a good time to catch up with them about general health, and also mental health. —Joshua Jakum, M.D., Piedmont Pediatrics
This is actually a prime time to get sports physicals done since most parents don’t have to worry about schedules. When things start opening up again and people go back to work, there will be a rush to get them done before school begins. However, patients who have missed their routine checkups will also want to come in, so there will be limited slots. This could cause issues with the students being able to participate in sports activities when the time comes. —Dr. Julian Hoang, DO, Lifetime Family Medicine
What types of appointments are you prioritizing?
We are not prioritizing any particular patients, we are seeing everyone who wants to come in. We have been doing some tele-health, but it’s not nearly as good as being able to examine a patient in person. —Steven Von Elten, M.D., Piedmont Family Practice
Going back to my earlier point of not allowing a drop in immunization rates in our community, that’s our priority. I’m not downplaying the effects of COVID-19, but you can’t keep your eye off the other things that are out there that we can control or prevent. —Joshua Jakum, M.D., Piedmont Pediatrics
I would not say we are particularly prioritizing certain types of appointments since we are still doing different types of visits from sick visits to routine follow-ups, but due to COVID concerns, we are seeing a lot more sick visits. We can do the majority of these sick visits via telemedicine which helps ensure we’re keeping ourselves and our patients safe. —Dr. Julian Hoang, DO, Lifetime Family Medicine
How do you handle social distancing in the waiting room and in treatment rooms?
Here, anybody who’s potentially sick with COVID-19 we send downstairs where we’re screening them outside in their cars. All our offices have put in good workflows to help protect their patients, so we want people to come back in again. —Steven Von Elten, M.D., Piedmont Family Practice
We actually have closed down our waiting rooms, all visits are text to room. When families arrive, they call and we check them in remotely. Then we recommend only one family member accompany each child, and we see children one at a time. We call them when the room is ready, the nurse meets them at the door and brings them back to a cleaned and sanitized room. We have been very cognizant of cleaning the rooms according to the CDC recommendations. We social distance at scales, and all our staff is masked at all times. There’s a greater level of vigilance now. —Joshua Jakum, M.D., Piedmont Pediatrics
Because we have many telemedicine visits, we have fewer in-office visits. This leaves space for the patients that are being seen to keep distance from each other. Our staff members are also required to wear masks when interacting with patients. In patient rooms, we tend to stay on the opposite side of the room until it’s time for the physical exam, and we are wearing gloves during our exams as well. This helps keep close contact to a minimum during patient encounters. —Dr. Julian Hoang, DO, Lifetime Family Medicine
Have you had an increased need for mental health appointments?
Yes, we’ve seen an increase. The stress of the COVID-19 is getting to many, the isolation is getting to many, so we’re seeing an increase in anxiety and depression. —Steven Von Elten, MD., Piedmont Family Practice
We have really recognized the importance of support during the stay at home period. For all children and teens, those bridges they depend on for social health have been abruptly closed: school friends, teachers, community members, church members. This year, teens and graduates have missed out on these incredible experiences for closure to their high school career; things like prom and graduation. They really can have this sense of loss, so giving them encouragement and telling them how proud I am of them for the successes they’ve had is really important to our practice. We encourage them and tell them that their lives are about to open up to amazing things. Tele-medicine has been skyrocketing in our practice, and has been particularly useful in mental health visits. So we are able to ensure that we are reaching out to all patients who need help. —Joshua Jakum, M.D., Piedmont Pediatrics
General Dentistry and Orthodontics
What kind of appointments were delayed due to the pandemic and how are you moving forward with them now?
All appointments were delayed initially, and gradually moved to emergency treatment only. Our office remained opened to provide needed treatment to patients in pain with broken teeth or crowns, infection, or trauma to the mouth. On May 1, the dental community was given the authorization to move forward with all treatment types. —Dr. Tontra Lowe, Awesome Smiles Dental Center
As an orthodontist all my services are considered elective and hence were suspended during the pandemic. However, I came into the office to see a few patients who needed an emergency orthodontic check. I resumed full service on May 4.–Dr. Madueke Ekoh, TEEM ORTHODONTICS
Are you prioritizing any particular type of visits and if so, which ones?
Appointment priority in our office is initially addressing those patients with active periodontal disease and other active diseases such as large cavities, teeth that require extraction or teeth that require root canals for infection. Next, patients who missed their periodontal maintenance hygiene appointments to help control disease, and those with treatment started but unable to complete due to COVID-19 guidance and recommendations. Those patients with underlying medical conditions are being prioritized as well since the pathogens in the mouth can impact overall health and vulnerability. —Dr. Tontra Lowe, Awesome Smiles Dental Center
Yes, we are limiting services that take longer and which require us to run handpieces due to the aerosols that can be generated. –Dr. Madueke Ekoh, TEEM ORTHODONTICS
What kinds of precautions are you taking to keep patients and staff safe?
We have instituted many protocols as outlined by the CDC, OSHA, and ADA in order to provide care in a warm, friendly, and safe environment. We have also taken extra measures including: installation of air purifiers which kill up 99.6% of viruses throughout the office and treatment suites; integration of aerosol reducing isolation systems; instituting new first time patient screening measures; and instituting a streamlined check-in and check-out process. In addition to our current personal protective equipment (PPE), our clinical team is equipped with knee-length or full body gowns, surgical hair caps, full face shields, and ASTM level 3 masks or higher (N95 or KN95). —Dr. Tontra Lowe, Awesome Smiles Dental Center
Our standard has been above par even before the pandemic. All the things we have been doing are what the governing boards are recommending to practitioners. We run an open system and sterilize our instruments after each use. All instruments are packed in pouches and we clean and wipe down after each patient. All patients and staff wear safety glasses, and all staff wear gowns, coats, facemasks, and gloves for each procedure. We also run our air purifiers/air cleaners. —Dr. Madueke Ekoh, TEEM ORTHODONTICS