AtlantiCare doctor speaks on COVID-19
Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr. Trivedi discusses COVID-19
HAMMONTON—In March, AtlantiCare Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr. Manish Trivedi discussed the then-new novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and its potential impact on Hammonton and Atlantic County. As of August 3, the number of COVID-19 cases in Hammonton is 644 and in the county, 3,592, with 1,994 recovered. Trivedi was interviewed by The Gazette on July 24 and spoke about what has happened in the intervening months, what could happen next and what people should do to continue to fight COVID-19 going forward.
Trivedi first spoke about the changes AtlantiCare, and all healthcare systems, have made in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s really been a shakeup from top to bottom. From a healthcare perspective, the impact on healthcare systems, especially here at AtlantiCare, we have had to change how we do things regarding PPE (personal protective equipment), hand hygiene, physical distancing, patients not able to have visitation from family members. We have been able to adapt by using digital devices so there is more connection between patients and families. We take temperatures, we do tracing after we have had people show symptoms. It has changed patient care and our employees’ care as well. It’s become more of a way of life now,” Trivedi said.
Masks have become a mandatory tool in stopping the spread of the disease, he said.
“In the community, people really aren’t going anywhere without a mask. The mask is our best weapon, our best tool against this. That and social distancing has really helped. We have a transient community, and our local community has taken the lead on this issue. It has been hard on Atlantic County, which is a very friendly and social county. It was a difficult transition, but as we have slowly opened things up, it’s clear we’ve taken on the challenge really well,” Trivedi said.
As the pandemic progressed, Trivedi said, doctors and healthcare professionals began to notice how the virus attacked the human body, and that changed their perceptions of it.
“In our field in healthcare, we have to anticipate the worst. When we were first preparing for this, we were focusing on the tenacity of the pathogen. That helped us prepare for it. But it is shocking and alarming for those of us taking care of these patients to see them come in with shortness of breath and how quickly it progressed. When we first looked at it we thought it was a respiratory virus similar to the flu, but now we see that it is an inflammatory virus, one that causes clots and other inflammation. As it has evolved, our preparation has evolved and our care for it has evolved as well,” he said.
As a result of this new information about COVID-19 being an inflammatory virus, he said, in addition to ventilating support, medications like steroids have fallen into favor. As the disease subsides in New Jersey, Trivedi cautioned that people have to remain vigilant.
“It is like summiting a mountain. Everyone was very concerned when it once started. I think we handled the first surge, the first summit, very well. But now we have to come down the mountain, and people need to remain vigilant. This virus is still there and it is just as strong and just as virulent as it was in the beginning. We’re not necessarily seeing it become less virulent. People need to wear masks and remain physically distant to limit as much exposure to the virus as we can,” Trivedi said.
Trivedi was asked when a vaccine for COVID-19 could be expected.
“This is a very hot topic in our field right now. I anticipate it being mainstream by the end of next year, 2021. Some vaccines may go into areas that have been heavily affected, but as far as generally, we will probably see in early 2021, like January or February,” Trivedi said.
In the meantime, people with other conditions should not avoid the hospital, the doctor said. Taking care of one’s health is critical during a pandemic, he said.
“It’s really important. Initially, a lot of people were afraid to go to the hospital. I encourage people to come and if they have conditions to come to the hospital, they should do so. We take extraordinary measures to help prevent infections. We have dedicated staff who have been here throughout the pandemic. We are taking precautions against nosocomial pathogens [hospital acquired infections] as well. Letting health conditions linger can only cause further problems. We have also done a great job in the outpatient setting, with televisits for patients who don’t want to go to their primary care providers and specialists. Regarding our general health and COVID-19 both, people need to continue to be vigilant,” he said.
AtlantiCare Director of Media Relations and Public Affairs Jennifer Tornetta added that those same extraordinary measures to prevent infections are also true with urgent care centers.
According to a release issued by AtlantiCare, the healthcare organization continues to urge the community to seek and get routine, specialty, urgent and emergency care when they need it. Always committed to the safety and wellbeing of all those it serves, the healthcare organization continues to evolve the way it provides care during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included making physical and operational changes aimed at addressing all health and wellness needs of the community while preventing spread of the virus.
“We’ve taken extraordinary steps to ensure the safety of our patients, their families, our staff and providers, and our broader community. As a result of these changes, the experience of care might be different. But our goal is that our customers will have the exceptional quality care the community deserves and has come to expect from us,” AtlantiCare Chief Operating Officer Margaret Belfield said.
She said changes include:
• Encouraging community members to make and keep scheduled healthcare appointments and to seek care in an emergency or for an urgent issue.
• Expanding options for scheduling primary and specialty care by adding a new online scheduling option for most AtlantiCare Physician Group providers.
• Enhancing access to care and convenience of getting care through its Telehealth program.
• Exceeding disinfection standards and other safety measures in patient care and other areas.
• Ensuring staff and providers have and use appropriate PPE.
• Educating staff and providers about the most recent infection prevention information and providing support and resources.
• Effecting policy and approach changes aimed at preventing spread of the virus.
• Engaging the community in recognizing shared responsibility in preventing spread of COVID-19.
“Our precautions include asking all patients, visitors, staff and providers to wear a face mask while inside facilities and at times when outside our locations. Depending on the situation, we might ask them to wear other PPE. “We’re also reinforcing the importance of being vigilant about hand hygiene. This includes washing hands with soap and water or using hand sanitizer before and after visiting patients or visiting our sites for other services. We’ve also modified our visitor policy to decrease opportunity for virus spread and to maintain essential personal protective equipment,” Belfield said.
Trivedi agreed with the visitor policy.
“It has always been our policy that those who are sick should not visit or accompany patients. Our new screening process helps us ensure no one with a fever of 100.4 or greater visits and identify if those seeking care have a fever so that we can practice appropriate precautions.” Trivedi said.
AtlantiCare has installed thermal imaging at the entrances to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center Mainland and Atlantic City campuses, the organization’s HealthPlex in Atlantic City, and the main facility of its Health Park in Manahawkin.
“This scanning helps us quickly identify anyone who might have a fever of 100.4 or greater or who is not wearing a mask. We’re also conducting in-person and telephonic screenings, depending on the care setting. These occur in advance of visits and/or in real time, pending the situation,” Trivedi said.
The organization has taken a number of steps to allow for social distancing. These include changing the layout of lounges, waiting areas and other public areas. Floor and mounted signs provide visual cues to support patients, visitors and staff in adhering to distancing guidelines. Plexiglass shields are in patient reception and other areas as an added level of protection, according to a release from AtlantiCare.
“We’ve always focused on providing care in a clean, sterile environment. We have enhanced our cleaning and disinfecting processes,” Belfield said.
These enhancements include:
• Using electrostatic disinfecting sprayers in high-traffic public areas, including hallways, elevators and stairways in the hospital campus.
• Expanding the use of ultraviolet light sanitizers from operating rooms to some patient areas.
• Disinfecting waiting and patient care areas after each patient/ customer encounter.
• Removing non-essential items that could spread infection.
“We’ve also made these changes to employee areas. We’re following state and CDC guidelines in all of our settings. To allow for physical distancing in our non-clinical areas, a significant number of our team members are working from home or on a rotating home and in-office schedule. We are engaging staff in self-monitoring for symptoms and encouraging them as we do all members of our community to adhere to safety measures at work, in their homes and in the community,” Belfield said.
For more information about AtlantiCare, call the AtlantiCare Access Center at (888) 569-1000; visit www.atlanticare.org; or find AtlantiCare on Facebook.