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Kaweah Health kicks off elective surgery with 38 patients, all test negative for COVID-19

  • Category: News
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Laura Florez-McCusker

VISALIA, CA – Kaweah Health's first day back at elective surgeries post COVID-19 was a busy one with all of its 38 patients testing negative for COVID-19 prior to surgery.

“As a team we were excited to get back to work and help patients, some who have put off surgeries due to COVID-19, but were in pain,” said Brian Piearcy, Kaweah Health's Director of Surgical Services. “We know this is not an easy time for patients because of our no-visitor policy, but it’s for everyone’s safety. We spent a lot of time on the phone today with our patients’ loved ones giving them updates because we know that is important.”

In anticipation of starting back to elective surgeries, Kaweah Health put a number of measures in place for patients coming into the Medical Center for surgical procedures to protect patients, staff and physicians. They included:

  • Testing every surgical patient for COVID-19, 24-48 hours prior to surgery
  • Pre-screening all patients the night before and the morning they arrived for their procedure
  • Continuing with enforcement of a no-visitor policy, with limited exceptions.
  • Screening all visitors who enter the Medical Center.
  • Unviersal masking for all individuals in the Medical Center, including surgical patients, employees and medical staff.
  • Enhanced facility cleaning and usage of personal protective equipment for clinical teams
  • Maintaining isolated units for COVID-19 care
  • Requiring medical staff and employees to self-monitor for symptoms prior to reporting to every shift.
  • As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in Tulare County, Kaweah Health is taking a slow and thoughtful approach to opening up services so that in the event of a surge, it has beds available to care for the community.

While starting up elective surgeries, the focus remains on keeping patient beds available in the event of a surge, said Gary Herbst, Kaweah Health's Chief Executive Officer. “We’ll slowly start to reintroduce other services knowing that we have the flexibility to stop at any time. If we see that surge coming, we can ramp right back. If we see the numbers continue to fall, we can accelerate,” he said.

Throughout COVID-19 and in preparation of beginning elective surgeries, Kaweah Health has taken a number of steps to ensure that the Medical Center is a safe and clean environment for patients and staff. Kaweah Health's Environmental Services (housekeeping) team has stepped up efforts to do a terminal, or top to bottom, clean of those departments that were used to cohort suspected or known COVID-19 positive patients during the pandemic, but will no longer remain in use for that purpose. Additionally, Kaweah Health's Environmental Services team has stepped up cleaning of high traffic and high touch areas and has continued its work to clean patient rooms and, every 24 hours, the team cleans operating rooms from top to bottom even those that have gone unused, with hospital-grade disinfectants approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Kaweah Health's Laundry Services team has also followed CDC recommendations to clean and disinfect laundry. Employees use gloves and gowns when handling dirty linens, clothing and other items that go to the department from the Medical Center and the team makes sure to wash laundry in water that heats up to 170 degrees – current research suggests that the virus cannot withstand temperatures at or above 158 degrees.

“The hospital is probably one of the safest places you can be right now given the amount of disinfection we are doing, the constant hand washing, the constant wearing of the personal protective equipment,” said Herbst, who noted that life-saving emergency surgery cases have continued at Kaweah Health. In April alone, 515 surgeries were performed at Kaweah Health.

“We never stopped doing surgeries. All of those surgical patients who have been coming to us for months have been in the safest place they could be,” he said.

In an effort to encourage safety in the community, Kaweah Health is also asking the community to adopt the following safe practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer
  • Maintain social distancing (6 feet apart)
  • Wear face masks
  • Clean/disinfect frequently touched surfaces
  • Monitor for symptoms of illness (fever, cough, difficulty breathing, loss of taste or smell, or GI problems, etc.)

Kaweah Health shares COVID-19 information and regular updates with the community on its website at and on its social media accounts.