Hospital prepares for recovery

LEBANNON – Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, New Hampshire’s largest provider of health care and the state’s only academic health system, has successfully resumed time-sensitive, urgent elective surgeries, and procedures and ambulatory visits after a postponement due to COVID-19.

Dr. Sandra Wong, MD, Chair of the Department of Surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock stressed that DHH has “always been safe and we continue to be safe. That’s the most important thing to us – to be safe for our employees and our patients.”

Wong shared that since joining the organization four years ago, it has been the goal to build surgical volume and with COVID-19, stopping surgical procedures was, “complete culture shock.”

“Luckily, we have always been able to continue with our medically-indicated, time-sensitive procedures,” she continued. “We’ve kept up with our time-urgent procedures, even with these times.”

DHH convened a special Clinical Recovery Command Team to implement the complex process of resuming operations that had been disrupted by the pandemic. Focusing on specific business segments, the Clinical Recovery Command Team is comprised of nine workgroups to support DHH leadership and to share plans and best practices across the DHH system.

“Part of the reason we had to pause is because we needed be attendant to our PPE,” Wong said. “We needed to prepare in case there was a surge.”

The health center now feels confident that they have plenty of N-95 masks, hospital gowns and other PPE items so they can resume services to their patients.

“We appreciate everybody’s patience,” Wong commented. “But the message that we want to deliver is we’re ready to start ramping up and providing those very necessary surgical procedures.”

One of the things that Wong discussed about oncology was the multi-disciplinery and interprofessional nature of the study and treatment of tumors.

“The whole community just got together and really reworked the way we are able to take care of patients,” she said. “I will say that what a crisis does is it helps accelerate change.”

Wong said that one of the really interesting things that they’ve seen is doctors’ ability to use telehealth, even for surgeons.

“Obviously, we can’t operate virtually, but we’ve been able to use that platform to help see patients and get them through this time,” she offered.

The best advice that Dartmouth can give, said Wong, is for patients and the community at large to continue handwashing and appropriately maintain social distancing.

“There’s nothing to fear here,” Wong said. “I actually think the hospital is a really safe place to be. We’ve stepped up our efforts in terms of PPE and cleaning. So, we’re ready.”