UF hospitals resume medical procedures

UF Health The Villages Hospital is shifting its focus to deferred medical procedures, hospital leaders said.

With coronavirus in the rearview mirror, UF Health The Villages Hospital is moving ahead with a focus of serving the community safely through its customary medical services, according to hospital leaders. The hospital, and its sister facility, UF Health Leesburg Hospital, are free of the COVID-19 virus, said Don Henderson, CEO of UF Health Central Florida. “We haven’t seen a new positive COVID-19 case in our hospitals for the last three weeks; in fact, our last few acute COVID-19 patients were recently transferred to rehabilitation so they can complete the recovery process,” Henderson said. “Now we can begin to focus on providing much-needed, and in many instances, deferred medical procedures, while continuing our extensive measures to protect patients and visitors from acquiring hospital-based infections.” Henderson said those undergoing the surgical procedures also are void of the virus.

“Since last week, over 400 patients have been pre-screened for COVID-19 prior to their surgical procedures, and none have come back positive,” Henderson said. “This is a testament to the early effectiveness of state and local officials working in cooperation with our UF Health team, our medical community and The Villages Health to institute policies to protect patient and worker safety, and to deploy extensive community testing to develop strategies to slow the spread of the virus.”

The number of flu- or COVID-19-type symptoms reported during emergency room visits decreased twofold in Sumter County and nearly threefold in Lake and Marion counties from March 29 through May 9, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The success of a partnership with The Villages Health that established a COVID-19 testing site at The Villages Polo Club and the recent gains made at the The Villages and Leesburg hospitals persuaded the management it is safe to resume elective surgical procedures, said Lorraine Brown, chief clinical officer and site administrator at The Villages hospital.

“Universal masking precautions will remain in place for the indefinite future,” she said. “What this means is that out of an abundance of caution all patients, visitors, and team members entering the hospital will be required to wear a suitable mask provided by the hospital at all times.”

All visitors must undergo a rapid health screening at hospital entrances, including a forehead temperature check.

“In the unlikely event a patient tests positive prior to their elective procedure, they will be rescheduled to a future date,” she said. “We are also currently limiting visitors to one per patient to further reduce the possibility of community spread of COVID-19 into the hospital environment.”

It was less than six months ago when The Villages entered into a partnership with UF Health, which announced in December plans to build a new hospital and a medical research campus in the community.

Not long afterward, UF Health announced the acquisition of Central Florida Health, former owner of The Villages and Leesburg hospitals. Two months later, the UF The Villages Hospital Freestanding Emergency Room at 3800 Meggison Road, across the road from Brownwood town center, opened.

With its relatively new presence here, UF Health sprung into action with The Villages Health to create a temporary COVID-19 testing site at The Villages Polo Club, accessible via cars and golf carts. The testing results showed low incidences of the virus.

“Results revealed a low rate of infection overall, and an extremely low rate of infection among asymptomatic individuals,” according to a New England Journal of Medicine article jointly published by UF Health, UF College of Medicine and The Villages Health.

The early rapid response to COVID-19 in The Villages validates the partnership’s intervention into the COVID-19 pandemic and helped flatten the curve, said David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health.

“Our approach included launching one of the largest and most comprehensive community testing programs in the country in cooperation with The Villages and implementing a robust systemwide telehealth network, including virtual intensive care unit services, which helped to effectively slow the growth of new cases in Central Florida,” Nelson said. “Patients at all UF Health hospitals can be assured of our unwavering commitment to the consistent delivery of safe care.”

That focus on delivery of safe care includes adding new staff. UF Health Central Florida recently announced it’s hiring nurses in medical, surgical, observation, cardiac medical, acute rehabilitation, emergency department, intensive care, cardiovascular units and cardiovascular intensive care units. Non-clinical positions are also currently available as the facilities look to expand its workforce to provide healthcare to the community.

The local hospital is part of UF Health’s medical network, which also includes the nationally ranked UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville and UF Health Jacksonville, an attraction for The Vilages in forming a partnership.

“This partnership with University of Florida, along with the opening next year of the Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood and the continuing growth of The Villages Health primary care centers, represents our family’s ongoing commitment to the vision — first shared by Grandpa Harold Schwartz and my dad, Gary Morse — that Villagers enjoy the very best in health care right here in ‘America’s Healthiest Hometown,’” said Mark Morse, president of The Villages.

Senior writer David R. Corder can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.