County medical, dental providers set to restart non-emergency procedures

Saint Alphonus Medical Center Ontario will be able to begin to do non-urgent medical procedures beginning May 1 after Gov. Kate Brown announced she will lift restrictions May 1. (The Enterprise/File).

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ONTARIO – Ben Peterson said he is glad he can start seeing patients again.

Peterson, a longtime Ontario dentist, will open his office up next week after Gov. Kate Brown announced a plan to lift her order that deferred non-urgent medical procedures on Friday, May 1.

Peterson said for the past six week his office was restricted to treating emergency cases.

“We were probably operating at 10%,” said Peterson.

Peterson said the governor’s decision was fortunate as his office faced the probability of rescheduling a large number of procedures.

“Having to reschedule three months’ worth of hygiene patients, it would have taken us a year to get all caught up again,” said Peterson.

The decision by the governor is “big” said Ken Hart, president of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Ontario.

“Our surgery volume has dropped by 30% of normal. This will allow us to slowly ramp back up,” said Hart.

Hart said the hospital won’t begin non-urgent medical procedures immediately.

“We are working on plans now to make sure we do it safely, with proper testing guidelines. No date set yet, but we are happy the governor has given us the flexibility to use our local clinical judgment in how we move forward,” said Hart.

The Saint Alphonsus Health System announced April 1 it planned to slash hours for some employees and furlough workers in response to the financial losses linked to the COVID-19 outbreak. Saint Alphonsus Health System is part of Trinity Health, a Michigan-based medical group. Trinity Health operates medical facilities and clinics throughout southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon.

The 49-bed Ontario hospital made “workforce adjustments” in the wake of the April 1 announcement that were a combination of pay cuts, reduced hours and furloughs, said Claudia Weathermon Tester, hospital spokesperson. About 60 people were impacted, said Weathermon Tester.

Hart said the lifted restriction may mean furloughed employees will return to work soon.

“But we don’t know yet,” said Hart.

In a Monday memo to Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department, Hart wrote non-urgent medical procedures will begin slowly, saying the hospital “will limit the volume of non-emergent and elective procedures to maximum of 50% of pre-COVID-19 procedure volume.”

Peterson also said his office will begin non-urgent procedures deliberately.

Safety precautions will also be more restrictive, he said.

“All the hygienists and I, anytime we create an aerosol, will be using face shields. We will also be wearing gowns, surgical caps and masks. So, a higher level of PPE (personal protective equipment) than we are accustomed to using,” said Peterson.

Peterson said the real question will be “whether the public will feel comfortable venturing out to get their teeth taken care of.”

“I want to reassure them this will be one of the safest places they can go,” said Peterson.

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