As state reopens, governor to issue guidance for health care providers in coming days

David Floyd • Apr 26, 2020 at 10:00 AM

As the state prepares to conduct a phased reboot of its economy, Gov. Bill Lee said he expects to release tangible guidance for hospitals and physician groups sometime next week.

“I wish I could give more information, but what’s most important is we give detailed information,” Lee said during a press conference Friday. “When we deliver that information, we want it to be clear so that people understand exactly what’s necessary to go back to procedures and surgeries.”

Lee signed an executive order in late March that put a pause on elective procedures in the state, a prohibition that was later extended to April 30. He said Friday the state is working with the healthcare community to come up with new guidelines, which will be available in the next few days.

Ballad Health Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton, who serves on the state’s economic recovery group, said the committee would be issuing its recommendations to the governor on Thursday, which would include suggestions for how to resume elective procedures.

The system is also coming up with its own plans regarding the resumption of those procedures.

"The start date of non-emergent procedures will be based on the finalization of our internal plan and also with the guidance from the governor's office," Deaton said during a press conference Thursday.

Dr. William Block, dean of East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine, said ETSU Health has been “actively engaged” in decisions regarding office visits, elective procedures and telemedicine, focusing on the health of the system’s patients and the community.

“We continue to limit our elective activities as we monitor the COVID-19 case numbers across the state and in our region,” Block said. “Decisions regarding where care is delivered and the timing of procedures will continue to be fluid for the coming months.”

Like other healthcare providers in the region, ETSU Health is taking precautions against the virus at its facilities. Staff is encouraging patients to bring and wear masks to clinics. The organization is also screening patients at the door and checking the temperature of everyone who comes into its clinics.

Non-urgent issues have been deferred for the time being, and the organization is using telemedicine to address problems and concerns that don’t require an in-person appointment.

State of Franklin Healthcare Associates CEO Richard Panek said the physician group was piloting telehealth before the COVID-19 crisis, but the outbreak prompted the organization to more rapidly deploy those capabilities.

Panek said the organization has been “stringently” following Centers for Disease Control guidelines in its clinics to create safe environments for patients.

“We also realized, during this time, that some patients would prefer not to come into the office,” Panek said. “Telehealth appointments have provided an option for those patients to connect with their provider without leaving their homes.”

He said the physician group will continue to offer telehealth appointments after the COVID-19 outbreak abates.

Panek said State of Franklin Healthcare Associates will continue to follow the safety standards it has in place until its leadership feels it’s safe to relax them.

“We are still responsible for the safety of our patients, team members and visitors,” Panek said.

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