While hospitals continue to provide care for COVID-19 patients, we cannot forget that patients in our community still need routine or emergency medical care. It might be an ER visit for a broken leg, a mammogram, a colonoscopy, cancer care – or even a surgical procedure.

These are still critically important to maintain the health and well-being of our neighbors. We want everyone to know that it is safe to receive care in a hospital and you should not delay care.

There have been many national news stories that highlight the fact that patients are avoiding hospitals during the pandemic. A recent national poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half (48%) of Americans state that they or a family member skipped or delayed medical care due to COVID-19.

We are now beginning to see the effects and in some cases, this decision has caused delays in treatment and unnecessary harm to the patient.

As a surgeon, my message is that it is safe to have surgery at this time. Memorial Health is committed to providing a safe surgery experience for our patients. While our hospital has always been a safe place to have surgery, we understand that patients have concerns about COVID-19. We are taking unprecedented measures to ensure that our patients can receive safe, high-quality care, even during a pandemic.

First, please know that positive COVID-19 patients and suspected COVID-19 patients are cared for in dedicated areas of the hospital by staff using maximum precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

Our COVID-19 safety plan starts before patients even enter the door. Prior to surgery, a staff member pre-screens the patient via telephone for any symptoms of COVID-19. We have a designated entrance where we screen and perform temperature checks on all surgery patients and visitors as well as employees and physicians before they enter the hospital.

We’ve implemented a universal masking policy, which means everyone is given a mask before they enter the hospital and is required to wear it. Patients having higher-risk procedures will have a rapid COVID-19 test prior to surgery.

We are limiting the number of visitors into our facility and have reduced patient visiting hours. Patients having surgery or an outpatient procedure may have one guest 18 years of age or older. Waiting rooms and other public areas have been reconfigured to allow for social distancing.

Patients should also know that operating rooms are routinely kept very clean to ensure a sterile environment. Hospitals follow strict infection prevention guidelines and operating rooms and surgical instruments are thoroughly decontaminated after every procedure.

Maybe you’re thinking you should just wait a couple of months to have your procedure. Honestly, we believe the protective measures we have in place will be with us for some time. Please don’t delay.

Hospitals are working very hard to ensure that you receive safe care, now and always. We appreciate your trust.

Chetan S. Deshpande, M.D. is the medical director of Perioperative Services at Memorial Health.