SAYRE — During a media briefing Thursday, Guthrie officials confirmed that there are currently no patients at any Guthrie facility that have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

Officials also noted that Guthrie currently has over 1,000 testing kits available to its staff.

“These are really unprecedented times,” Guthrie CEO Dr. Joseph Scopelliti said. “In my career in medicine, I’ve never encountered anything like this on this magnitude.”

Scopelliti and other officials highlighted the main areas that Guthrie doctors are focusing on to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus:

• Containing the spread of the virus

• Commitment to the safety and health of patients and staff

• Preparation for a potential surge of patients.

Dr. J. Michael Scalzone, chief quality officer for Guthrie, said the health care provider constantly checks in with public health departments and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

“That’s where we get most of our information on a daily basis,” he said. “The public health departments are those that report the cases when the testing is positive.”

Scalzone stated that in New York there are about 2,372 positive cases of the coronavirus, and about 133 positive cases in Pennsylvania.

“None of those patients have been positive in a Guthrie laboratory or in a Guthrie hospital,” he said. “At this point, we have not taken care of any patients that have COVID-19, nor have any of the tests that we’ve done been positive. We’ve done 134 tests so far.”

Scalzone explained that any new patients are screened with questions upon entering Guthrie facilities — including those addressing the symptoms of the virus along with whether the patient has traveled internationally recently.

If any red flags are raised during that screening process, the patient is immediately isolated, and a physician will perform the testing required.

He noted that each Guthrie facility has an emergency operations center, which all opened weeks ago in anticipation of the spread of the virus, and they essentially serve as the COVID-19 headquarters for each facility in the health care system.

“We really do believe it is relatively inevitable that we will have positive cases in our region,” he said. “There really is no one-size-fits-all solution for a problem as complex and rapidly changing as this. But we are very familiar with the emergency operations concept and we do this regularly when there other issues that may impact the health of the communities we serve.”

In order to deter the spread of the virus, Guthrie is suspending visitation at its facilities, said Scalzone.

“For the majority of our patients, they unfortunately will not be able to have visitors,” he said. We understand that is difficult for our patients, but it really is the right thing to do, and it’s mandated by the state.”

Scalzone added that Guthrie has expanded its telemedicine capacity to further reduce the need for patients to come in for appointments, as well as suspended the majority of its routine care office visits.

“We definitely can’t predict the scope of what’s going to happen, but we feel very prepared for an influx of patients and we’ll continue to monitor the situation and prepare as necessary.”

Dr. Lawrence Sampson, chief of vascular/endovascular surgery, reiterated and defended Guthrie’s decision to postpone non-emergent surgeries.

“Our decision to postpone all non-emergent, non-urgent surgery was based on the safety of our patients, communities and staff in light of the ever-changing world pandemic,” he said. “This recommendation is in line with the state surgeon general along with the American College of Surgeons.

“It is nationwide,” Sampson continued. “You will not find another hospital which has not made this decision. We are working in alignment with hospitals throughout the region and nation.”

Sampson explained that the mechanism that decides the postponement of specific surgeries is a process that sees a patient’s surgeon will review that person’s case with the health care section head. That decision is then reviewed on a panel made up of other doctors and surgeons. Sampson added that the process is reviewed twice a week due to the constantly-changing nature of the pandemic.

Sampson said anyone with questions or concerns should contact their surgeon.

“We have adequate current supplies to take care of any emergency or any urgent surgery,” he said. “But part of the reason we are being so cautious with non-emergent cases is because of our responsibility to take care of any urgent or emergent surgery.”

Dr. Sheela Prabhu, chief of general internal medicine, focused on Guthrie’s dedication to caring for senior and vulnerable populations.

“This is the time for everyone to be cautious and not complacent — to be very careful, and not in complete panic,” she said. “Older patients — those above 65 years old — are at a higher risk, especially if they have ailments such as lung disease, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.”

Prabhu also recommended avoiding social gatherings to help prevent the spread of the virus, as well as practicing hand hygiene.

Additionally, Guthrie has started up COVID-19 information hotlines, which will be staffed from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and can be reached at 844-357-2840 or 800-836-1925.

Johnny Williams can be reached at (570) 888-9643 ext. 232 or Follow Johnny Williams on Twitter @johnnywMT

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