SMITH CENTER, Kan. – As the upcoming influenza season approaches and the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Smith County Memorial Hospital and Smith County Family Practice will adjust their screening and waiting room practices to protect patients and staff from respiratory illnesses. The new procedures will begin on Thursday, Oct. 1.
“We are keenly aware of our role in helping to keep the communities we serve safe and healthy,” said Allen Van Driel, CEO of the facility. “Our desire with these new protocols is to create additional social distance between patients, whether they are well or sick so that we can continue to treat and prevent illness.”
The medical staff and administration have been in conversation throughout the pandemic to monitor community spread and adjust practices to support patient care.
“These new protocols fall in line with federal and state guidelines for infection prevention,” said Ferrill Conant, a physician at SCMH and chief health officer for Smith County. “We hope they are something we can repeat year after year even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to suppress respiratory illness such as influenza and even the common cold as the season approaches.”
The most significant changes patients will notice are at the clinic. Patients arriving to see providers at Smith County Family Practice for Quick Care or scheduled appointments will be asked to wait in their vehicle and call the clinic from their car. Screening and registration will take place over the phone. Following the registration process, patients will be asked to continue to wait in their vehicle in the parking lot until a nurse calls to bring them into the building for their appointment.
Patients who answer screening questions about respiratory symptoms or exposure with “yes” will be asked to wear a mask into the facility. All patients are asked to bring a mask in the event they are asked to wear one.
“We’re essentially temporarily closing our waiting room in favor of keeping patients distanced in their cars,” Conant said. “This will continue throughout the flu season and maybe beyond if we find success in the practice.”
The clinic modeled this practice after what others in the state have done to combat waiting room congestion or the need to screen all entrants into the facility.
“We know from our first experience screening everyone, and from conversations with other facilities using a parking lot waiting room that there will be a learning curve for everyone,” Van Driel said. “Other communities have gotten used to these types of practices and we’re confident that our patients will ultimately feel more comfortable coming to see a provider.”
The next big change that patients and visitors will see is a screener at the hospital’s front door and ER entrance taking temperatures and asking screening questions before allowing entrance into the facility.
The hours for the front door will be limited from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Outside of those hours, all patients and visitors should enter the facility through the ER.
“Again, this is to help combat the issues we see every year with the onset of influenza and other respiratory illness in the area,” said Van Driel. “Unlike the concerns in March, we will not be limiting services. Our specialty providers will continue to see patients, our rehab services will be working continuously and all elective surgeries will be available for patient needs.”
In addition to continued services, Hometown Café will remain open and serving the public for both dine-in and carryout lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Café patrons will need to be screened at the front door before entering the facility for their meal.
Van Driel and Conant hope that the increase in screening will boost confidence for patients and visitors that previously were unsure about coming to the facility.
“In the height of the pandemic, we saw a significant decrease in patients coming for routine or preventive care as well as acute needs,” Conant said. “We know there are people out there who have put off necessary care for cardiovascular needs, pulmonary needs or even different cancers. The last thing we want is for a patient to feel uncomfortable coming to the facility and therefore worsening their condition.”
Van Driel adds one more caveat to the screening requirement.
“Patients who are visiting the clinic should use the parking lot waiting room and adhere to the screening process in place,” he said. “Clinic patients will not be allowed to enter the clinic through the hospital for several reasons. One, we won’t have the proper registration on file which is how insurance claims and billing are determined and two, we are federally mandated to have patients for the two entities use separate doors.”
Signage outside the hospital and clinic will help guide patients through the process and when in doubt, patients and visitors are encouraged to call ahead to ask about the procedure.
“We will be calling patients ahead of appointments to remind them of the process,” Conant said. “As always, it’s good to call on your way when coming for Quick Care or an ER visit. Our goal is always to see every patient and treat them with respect. We think this process will help us to a better job of that in the long-run.”