BENSON — As healthcare professionals provide services for patients, new protocols are in place at medical facilities in an attempt to keep staff and patients safe from coronavirus. Benson Community Hospital, along with Benson Family Health Center — one of the Chiricahua Community Health Centers Inc. (CCHCI) clinics in Cochise County — are taking extra precautionary steps to help mitigate exposure to COVID-19.

At both sites, before patients enter the hospital or clinic, they are screened by an employee, a process that involves answering a brief list of scripted questions as well as taking the patient’s temperature. If answers to the questions are “no,” and there is no fever, patients are allowed to enter the building for services.

The following information outlines coronavirus protocol for both healthcare providers.

Benson Community Hospital“Originally, our screening procedure was set up for routine tests and outpatient services only, but now we screen ER patients before they enter the lobby,” said Ashley Dickey, Benson Community Hospital public information officer.

A tent is set up in the hospital parking lot, parallel to both the main and ER entrances for the screening process.

With the exception of patients that are brought in by ambulance, everyone is required to stop at the tent for the screening, Dickey said.

“Even our staff members are screened before they are allowed to clock in for their shift, so they go through the same process as the patients,” Dickey added. “As long as our patients are fever free and answer ‘no’ to the questions, they are allowed in the hospital for outpatient services.”

As of Monday afternoon, the hospital had conducted 10 coronavirus tests. Eight of those were negative, with the hospital waiting for results on the other two.

Visitors are not allowed in the hospital at this time, representing another big change in the facility’s day-to-day operations.

“When patients arrive with another person, that person must wait outside the building while the patient is treated or admitted into the hospital,” Dickey said.

“For patients who are hospitalized long-term and wish to see family members and friends, we have a zoom online set up for distant visitations.

“It’s definitely an evolving process, where we reevaluate our procedures constantly,” Dickey said. “We would rather take these precautions and know that we’re implementing procedures to keep our staff and patients safe.”

CCHCI Benson Family Health Center“Before entering the clinic, we ask patients if they have a fever, cough, if they have traveled outside of the state, or if they have any known exposure to COVID-19,” said Dr. Zachary Patterson, one of the CCHCI physicians.

All patients are required to have their temperature checked before they are allowed in the building. Those with a temperature of 100.4 or higher are immediately taken into a special room for further evaluation. Anyone attending the visit with the person is also screened prior to being allowed in the building, Patterson said. If the companion has a fever, the person must remain in their car and is added to the clinic’s schedule, to be triaged separately.

All patients who are showing symptoms of coronavirus are taken to the special room set up for suspected COVID-19 cases, said Patterson, who added that CCHCI has steps in place to immediately test patients that are showing symptoms of the virus.

“If the patient is here at the clinic and meets the criteria for testing, we test the patient right then and there,” he added. “We have a robust telehealth program and have been doing many visits with patients from their home.”

If a patient is suspected of having the virus and is at home, CCHCI has drive-through testing sites at the Benson Family Health Center, Sierra Vista Health Center and Ginger Ryan Clinic in Douglas, Patterson said.

The hours for the drive through testing are from 4 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, but the patient must go through a telehealth visit first.

“Patients of any age with any complaint can be seen through the telehealth system as long as they have a phone, tablet or computer,” Patterson said.

Along with telehealth services, which CCHCI launched across all its Cochise County locations, patients can get medication refills online through the website, said Emily Vickers, public relations for CCHCI.

“All patients need to do is call their preferred CCHCI pharmacy location and we’ll walk them through the process from there,” Vickers said. “For information, go to cchci.org/pharmacy.

With 32,000 patients across Cochise County, Vickers said CCHCI touches every corner of the county.

“When the pandemic hit, it was important for us to get together quickly and launch streamlined programs to help all patients while responding as effectively as possible.”

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