As Guthrie proceeds with opening up less emergent procedures and care to the public, it is doing so with the threat of COVID-19 in mind.

“The pandemic is not behind us, of course,” said Dr. J. Michael Scalzone, as he outlined Guthrie’s preparations to not only handle future COVID-19 patients, but also the routine care needs of the communities the organization serves, “but we are prepared to walk down both of these paths. Importantly, that means safety is first. Because of that, we need to make sure that we keep track of all of the needs to take care of our patients.”

In mid-March, Guthrie implemented measures to make sure it could handle an influx of patients due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic at the time. During a press conference Thursday, Scalzone said the health care organization has not seen a large number of patients with COVID-19, and are seeing fewer and fewer patients — along with positive COVID-19 tests — as the weeks continue.

To get to the point of bringing back services including routine health care visits, mammograms, colonoscopies, and elective operations, Scalzone said Guthrie had to comply with regulations in both Pennsylvania and New York state, which included making sure there is enough treatment space and ventilator capacity in the organization’s hospitals, sufficient personal protective equipment for staff, and enough diagnostic testing.

“Weeks ago when this began, many institutions in many areas were limited with the amount of testing that they had,” said Scalzone. “Gratefully, we have a good portion of testing now. We can really expand the testing that we do.”

This not only includes testing patients who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or who have to be admitted to the hospital, but also those being prepared for an operation while supporting the needs of local nursing homes. In New York state, nursing home staff are required to be tested twice a week, Scalzone added, while staff in Pennsylvania’s nursing homes are subject to weekly testing.

“That’s a large volume of tests, but we do have that available and we can help them out,” Scalzone said.

With antibody testing, or testing for those who have had past exposure to the virus, Scalzone clarified that these tests are more for the public health perspective to determine how widespread the disease is and have few applications in a clinical setting.

Dr. John Olmstead, chief medical officer for the Guthrie Corning Hospital and regional medical director for Guthrie’s western region, outlined the steps the organization has been taking including making sure operating rooms and procedure suites remained clean and safe, screening patients and staff upon entering Guthrie’s facilities, social distancing, monitoring the amount of personal protective equipment available, and continuing visitor restrictions.

“We are confident that we can continue to increase the volume of procedures that we perform over the next weeks and months, and we have an excellent team that will be monitoring the national, state, and local directives, the prevalence of COVID-19 in our region, and the supply of critical PPE so that we can continue to provide excellent surgical care, but most importantly keep our patients and our staff safe, ” said Olmstead.

During Thursday’s press conference, Guthrie officials thanked the public for their flexibility and understanding during this time. Guthrie President and CEO Dr. Joseph Scopelliti, noting that it was National Health Care week, also recognized the efforts of staff.

“It is really an exceptional time for us,” said Guthrie President and CEO Dr. Joseph Scopelliti. “We have a great year ahead of this event, and we have found that our staff, and particularly our clinicians, have really leaned into the challenges of COVID.”

Guthrie has also received around $58,000 in donations to its Emergency Response Fund to help those in need in addition to many other donations from more than 300 individuals and businesses. These contributions included Corning Incorporated and Dr. Michael Lappe, who have helped develop a variety of tools to help Guthrie staff do their jobs better, more easily, and more safely; TCC Gives’ donation of 20 video-capable tablets to help palliative care and hospice teams connect patients with their families; Gary Vergason of Vergason Technology, who provided the company’s expertise in sterilization through ultra-violet light to help with the sterilization of certain PPE items while also using his manufacturing facility to produce around 2,000 face shields; Lockheed Martin and Siemens Dresser-Rand, which made more than 5,000 face shields; volunteers at local libraries and schools who utilized 3D printers to create face shields and other PPE products; community members who sewed together cloth masks to use in public; and a group of individuals and organizations who provided Guthrie with food.

“We are extremely grateful for the support that has been provided to us,” said Scopelliti.

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