Many children need operations for a variety of reasons, but families may be reluctant to schedule surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic. On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Paul Danielson, M.D., chair of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Department of Surgery, explains how the hospital is keeping kids safe and the dangers of postponing a necessary surgical procedure.
What changes has the hospital made in the wake of the coronavirus disease?
Our number one goal is safety. Safety for our patients and safety for all our staff taking care of them because keeping patients safe is what we are all about. And if our staff isn’t safe, they can’t carry out our mission as a hospital. Our team looked at the ways we can bring children into the hospital and get them the operations they need in the safest way.
First, we decided that every child needed to be tested for COVID-19 before he or she could come into the operating room area. This is so the child will be safe, but it also protected all the other children and families in the waiting room areas and protects our staff from being exposed to the virus and potentially spreading it to other people.
We have instituted universal COVID testing for all patients having an operation at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. We also wanted to make sure that the adults accompanying the child to the hospital were appropriately screened. And, for the safety of our children, we asked that only one parent or guardian accompany the child to the hospital. That minimizes the chance of any disease being spread, should one person happen to have COVID-19. When they arrive at the hospital, we will ask them a battery of questions, to make sure they don’t seem infected.
Behind the scenes at the hospital, we’ve taken many steps. We have reconfigured our waiting rooms to comply with social distancing and are putting families in individual rooms where they can wait for their child during surgery so the risk of them contracting or spreading something to someone else is minimized.
Also, our staff are wearing specialized protective equipment, all designed so we don’t spread this virus.
All of our processes and checklists are monitored carefully. We pause at places along the way to make sure everything is lined up and we have our ducks in a row before we start an operation. All this is still in place, although a family does not see it. That’s really crucial to doing a safe operation. So we made sure that remained untouched. That foundation has always been there.
How are surgeries being scheduled now? Is there any difference than before COVID-19? And what should families know about that process?
For the most part, the surgery scheduling process is the same as it always has been. The biggest change in the process is that the patient needs to make one additional trip to come in and get tested for COVID -19 before he or she comes in for surgery. That COVID -19 test needs to be done 48-72 hours before the date of the scheduled surgery. For this purpose, we have set up several COVID -19 testing centers for pre-surgical patients. We use specialized staff, trained to get the specimen from children so the test will be accurate. It’s a quick 15-minute appointment and the patient gets the result the next day.
If the test is negative, you have a greenlight and are ready for surgery. If it should come back positive, we will alert your physician immediately and postpone the surgical procedure.
What do parents need to know about the day of the surgery?
A representative from the hospital will call the day before to give the family members some reminders and check on the current health status of the patient. When you arrive at the hospital, you will be assigned to an individual room where the staff can prepare the patient for surgery.
On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories each Monday for the latest report.