Bassett adds 24/7 hotline for advice on coronavirus

Julie Lewis | The Daily Star Dr. Charles Hyman, an infectious disease specialist at Bassett Medical Center, speaks during a media conference at the Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown on Friday, March 13.

COOPERSTOWN — People concerned they have COVID-19 symptoms can call a 24-hour Bassett Healthcare Network hotline for guidance.

People should call 607-547-5555 to describe symptoms, Bassett physicians said at a Friday, March 13, media conference. COVID-19 can cause symptoms similar to the flu, such as fever, cough and trouble breathing.

They will be evaluated over the phone by healthcare professionals throughout the entire Bassett network to determine if they need an in-person visit, the physicians said.

“That’s going to be a triage line that we have set up to provide general information about COVID-19 as well as the ability to be evaluated in a triage line by our workforce,” Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Steven Heneghan said. “And if appropriate, by a physician or other practitioners to evaluate the risk of person on the phone.”

The physicians stressed that people with symptoms must not unexpectedly show up at facilities because it increase the risk of both patients and medical professionals getting sick.

“It really is important for us to maintain our workforce — our nursing workforce, our registration workforce as well as our doctors and other practitioners — to be able to care for you,” Heneghan said. “We are not deciding this solely just to protect our workforce. That is the resource you will need if and when you need care.”

The availability of COVID-19 tests is increasing, but not enough yet to meet the full need of communities, Heneghan said. The tests, which are done through a laboratory separate from Bassett, likely won’t be charged by insurers but any subsequent treatment may be charged, Bassett Healthcare Network President and CEO William Streck said. Insurers have yet to finalize these things, Streck added.

As part of the Bassett’s response to COVID-19, telemedicine capabilities are being expanded while visitation to all inpatient units at the five hospitals within its network and its long-term care facilities have been suspended, with extenuating circumstances being considered.

To prevent being overwhelmed from an anticipated increase in number of hospitalizations, more specialized rooms have been prepared and staff has been equipped with personal protective equipment, said Bassett Medical Center President Dr. William LeCates.

“Throughout the network we’ve also looked at available spaces in our network that might be used for care of an increased number of individuals requiring hospitalization,” LeCates said. “We are preparing for an increased need for hospital care because we see that occurring in other parts of the world.”

While the physicians couldn’t comment on a COVID-19 case in Delaware County, announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday, LeCates said one person with a confirmed case has been treated within the network and the network has experience caring for infection in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

“I can tell you at Bassett Medical Center we have evaluated individuals with suspected coronavirus infection and also evaluated and treated individuals with confirmed coronavirus infection,” LeCates said. “Both situations require the same degree of precautions for all staff and for every aspect of the hospital here.”

Bassett Medical Center Senior Attending Physician and infectious diseases specialist Dr. Charles Hyman said for the vast majority of people, COVID-19 resolves without any problems. However, people over the age of 60 who have underlying diseases such as diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing serious illness.

He said people should follow guidelines set by public health officials, such as washing hands often, avoiding touching your face and avoiding large crowds.

It’s uncertain when the infection will peak, Hyman said, but following these practices will help prevent spread. “That will slow or flatten the curve of uncertain infections by comparison to having a rapid increase in infections,” Hyman said. “By doing that, that will allow the systems whether that’s here or elsewhere to better accommodate cases that we are encountering.”

Go to www.bassett.org/covid-19 to view frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and links from the CDC and state Department of Health with the most up-to-date information about the virus.

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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