While Highlands Medical Center (HMC) has continued to perform surgical and diagnostic procedures in urgent and emergent cases, all elective procedures were stopped on March 19, at the order of Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Public Health. Per her announcement on April 28, hospitals across the state are now able to get back to work performing all procedures for patients. 

In anticipation of Alabama slowly moving into reopening the state in conjunction with the new Safer at Home Order, HMC has been working on plans that carefully consider how and when to safely schedule elective procedures and which ones can phase in first. 

These decisions were made based on the latest guidance from the ADPH and CDC.  Important factors were considered such as the number of COVID-19 cases in our community, testing capacity and the availability of PPE.  Some patient procedures were safe to postpone for a few weeks but should not be postponed for months.    

HMC will begin performing elective procedures beginning Monday, May 4. 

“We had already begun putting plans in place for the reopening of these services in order to ensure the safety of our patients and staff.  After the announcement last week we started contacting patients to reschedule procedures that were planned during the time of Gov. Ivey’s order, and already have procedures scheduled starting first thing Monday morning,” said Dr. Paul Avenel, general surgeon and chief of staff at Highlands Medical Center.  

All surgeons and surgical staff are being tested for COVID-19 prior to the reopening of elective procedures.  Patients, physicians and staff entering the hospital each day will continue to be screened for temperature and symptoms of the coronavirus and are required to wear a mask.  

Patients scheduled for surgical procedures must be tested for COVID-19 with negative results within 48 hours of their procedure.  The hospital will provide direction to each surgical patient for testing, as well as post testing instructions.  Even with negative test results, these patients will be screened again for temperature and symptoms prior to entering the facility for their surgery. 

“We are requiring all patients to wear a mask while here,” said Dr. Lonnie Albin, chief medical officer at HMC.  “In order to be good stewards of our PPE, we are asking those patients who have a mask to bring it with them.  Otherwise, we will provide a mask upon entry to our building for those patients who do not have one.” 

With the exception of the Wellness Center and Gift Shop, all services offered by HMC are up and running as of this Monday.  This includes surgical services, Sleep Disorder Center, lung cancer screenings, physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, respiratory therapy, infusion therapy and all other services provided at the hospital.  The Wellness Center and Gift Shop will reopen in the future when state officials allow.   

According to Alabama’s new Safer at Home order, the current no visitor policy restrictions are still in place for all hospitals.  Exceptions to this are only in extraordinary circumstances including maternity, pediatrics and end-of-life care. 

“We know it is difficult not being able to visit friends and family, and ask for your continued patience as we must continue to err on the side of caution in order to protect everyone,” said Albin.

Even though the new Safer at Home order allows hospitals to reopen services, Highlands Health & Rehab and Cumberland Health & Rehab will continue to operate under their current processes until further notice. 

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