University of Florida Health is resuming all elective inpatient and outpatient surgeries and procedures at all its locations Monday, recognizing the urgency of ramping up services for non-coronavirus patients whose medical conditions and illnesses require care even in the face of a global pandemic.
This includes all UF Health hospitals in Gainesville, Jacksonville and Central Florida, as well as the UF Health Florida Surgical Center, the UF Health Children’s Surgical Center, the UF Health Endoscopy Center and UF Health Pain Medicine – Ayers. Additionally, all UF Health Physicians practices will be open.
“We have a number of patients who require our care for diseases and conditions unrelated to the coronavirus, and it’s important that we be able to offer that care as soon as reasonable for their health and well-being,” said C. Parker Gibbs Jr., M.D., UF Health Shands chief medical officer.
The decision comes after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced state health care facilities could resume normal operations. The governor had ordered their suspension about six weeks ago in an executive order.
“Much of our attention has been focused this last month on meeting the urgent needs of COVID-19 patients,” said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “Even so, we never lost sight of the thousands of patients who rely on us for a range of services. Their needs don’t go away in a public health emergency. We’re here for them in a safe environment, ready to meet those needs and offering the best of ourselves to get the job done.”
UF Health leaders said resuming elective surgeries and procedures would not take place without stringent safeguards to protect patients and staff. This includes coronavirus testing of all patients who are newly admitted. Additionally, infection-free patients will be admitted to inpatient units separate from COVID-19 patients to prevent the spread of infection. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Safeguards already being followed at UF Health facilities will remain in place. These include the screening and limiting of visitors, encouraging face coverings for all visitors, requiring the use of appropriate personal protective equipment by staff and the regular, thorough cleaning of all facilities, among other steps.
UF Health leaders said these measures will continue into the foreseeable future and the health system will continue to work with epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists to ensure the safety of patients.
“As Florida’s flagship health system, we were taking care of hundreds of patients and performing many urgent and emergent surgeries before the storm of the coronavirus forced the postponement of so many of those procedures,” said UF Health Shands CEO Ed Jimenez. “We recognize it’s been a trying time for our patients. We’re now pleased to be ramping back up so that we can continue serving as the destination hospital for our great state.”
Also on Monday, UF Health outpatient clinics will begin steering more patients toward in-person visits. While telehealth is still available — in recent weeks, a majority of patient encounters at these clinics have been via telehealth — UF leaders recognize that telehealth cannot substitute for a clinic visit for many treatments.
“Some types of issues are best taken care of in person,” said Laura Gruber, M.B.A., M.H.S., UF Health Physicians associate vice president.
As patient visits ramp up, patients will be asked to bring their own face coverings to the clinics and wear them during their visit. If a patient doesn’t have a covering, a face mask will be provided, Gruber said.
The clinics, she noted, have never closed to patients and even with additional patient visits, UF Health has adequate supplies of personal protective equipment for its health care providers.
The UF College of Dentistry is also planning to begin phasing in non-emergency care in a limited number of its clinics starting May 11, phasing in additional sites as long as safety precautions prove effective.
“These have been extraordinary times on multiple levels,” Gibbs said. “While we are resuming regular operations, it will still be a difficult journey as we all adapt to a new normal. We remain committed to ensuring the health and safety of our patients, our visitors and our faculty and staff.”