Many medical offices in the Tri-Counties never closed during the coronavirus pandemic.
As essential parts of their communities, they needed to stay open to serve patients with non-COVID-19 matters, such as helping people recover from surgeries or keep their eye sight.
Many practices whittled down the number of people they were seeing to only the most urgent, though, and figured out new policies to help protect their staff and patients.
Dr. Jamie Mason, owner of Sunrise Physical Therapy in Oxnard and Ventura, installed new equipment to help protect everyone who comes through her doors whether they’re there to work or to get help. By using air scrubbers with UV light, the air is being continually sterilized.
The practice is also reducing the chances of coronavirus transmission in other ways. Mason closed the waiting rooms, and staff members come out to patients’ cars to screen them for the virus. Every surface the patient touches is sterilized after use, and therapists are doing one-on-one sessions to prevent spread in groups.
Those procedures are only for the people who need hands-on therapy the most, though. Most patients are being seen using telehealth options. In-person visits are reserved for only those who need more than what can be done through a screen and those who can’t use telehealth.
“If someone wants to come into the office, we want to have the ability to do that,” Mason said, “but we still want to be really cautious.”
Mason also initially closed her Ventura office so she and her staff could focus on control efforts at the Oxnard location. The Ventura office reopened after a few weeks.
To figure out how she was going to protect people who walked through her doors, Mason turned to friends in the medical community who gave her advice on what to do.
“There’s no manual we can go and look at,” Mason said.
One local dentist is helping to write that manual — at least for his branch of medicine.
Dr. Dar Radfar has seen the impact coronavirus can have: One of his close friends became ill, had a stroke and died from the disease.
Despite the loss, he’s spent the past several weeks creating and leading webinars to help inform other dentists of best practices they can use to protect themselves, their staff and their clients.
Radfar teaches dentists how to screen for and treat sleep apnea and snoring, and he lectures about that subject on a national scale, so he already knew how to gather information and then reach people who needed to understand it and use it in their own communities.
“There’s really no great information out there from the associations,” Radfar said.
His lectures have included ways to check for COVID-19, but also how to make a practice safer in other ways, like removing magazines and other commonly-touched but hard to disinfect surfaces from a waiting area.
Radfar has two offices — one in Oxnard and one in Thousand Oaks — and he closed them initially, but reopened May 7.
“When you graduate dental school, or when you’re an assistant that graduates a program, you take an oath to provide care,” Radfar said. “If you wear your mask and keep your social distance and work with tests, you reduce your chances of getting COVID-19.”
A huge part of the problem with trying to develop new policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is the fact that there’s still so many unknowns regarding the disease. At San Luis Obispo Eye Associates, new guidelines are being written on a daily basis and those guidelines have to be communicated to staff and patients who come in.
“I feel like we’ve had to rewrite the playbook on every policy,” said practice administrator Michelle Mele.
The practice never shut down but, like Sunrise Physical Therapy, limited the number of patients it was seeing in person to only those whose health would be affected if they weren’t seen in person.
SLO Eye Associates shifted to telehealth appointments for some people, and for those who come in, the practice calls the day before to get the patient’s history, to help people spend as little time as possible in the office.
SLO Eye Associates is also only making glasses by appointment. All frames are sterilized after people try them on.
Because of the precautions, the practice’s schedule has been reduced by more than 50 percent. Mele hopes the schedule will be back to its regular level of activity by July, but she’s going to be watching closely to make sure it’s safe first.
“I think things will look different for a long time,” Mele said. “It would be nice to get back to a kind of normal.”
• Contact Amber Hair at [email protected]