Hospitals in Skagit County are returning to normal operations, with Gov. Jay Inslee’s action Monday ending a shutdown of elective procedures and non-emergent services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All three — Skagit Valley Hospital, Island Hospital and PeaceHealth United General — are now focused on getting patients back on their schedules.

Brian Ivie, CEO and president of Skagit Regional Health, said Skagit Valley Hospital staff has already heard from patients eager to schedule operations.

“We are definitely seeing people interested in getting their cases dealt with,” he said.

Procedures that health officials determined a patient could wait on without harmful effects have been banned since mid-March as authorities worked to ensure hospitals would not be overwhelmed as the virus case count climbed. The virus continues to move through Skagit County, but the positive confirmations have been falling.

Safety measures already in place will continue to be required, including constant use of face masks, frequent sanitation of high-touch surfaces, separation of COVID-19 patients, testing both patients and staff and limiting visitor access at all three hospitals.

To accommodate a surge of delayed elective procedures — approximately 1,000 at Skagit Valley Hospital — Ivie said his surgeons are prepared to work overtime.

“Our surgeons are very driven to get these cases taken care of,” he said.

So far, Skagit Valley Hospital has seen 60 COVID-19 patients, far fewer than it was prepared to see. As of Wednesday afternoon, four patients with the virus were being treated and are kept separate from others.

Ivie praised Inslee’s new mandate, saying it takes the authority to proceed with care out of the hands of government and into the hands of medical providers.

“Let them exercise their best medical judgement,” he said.

PeaceHealth United General Hospital in Sedro-Woolley started performing semi-urgent procedures in mid-May and is now preparing to treat the rest.

Chuck Prosper, chief executive of PeaceHealth’s Northwest network, said the hospital is “absolutely in a recovery mode,” but that patients are returning at a manageable rate.

“Doctors and patients are beginning to reconnect,” he said.

Prosper said staff are focused on safety, and strict standards during the pandemic will continue to be necessary to ensure patient safety.

“Even in the height of (the) pandemic, the hospitals were safe,” he said.

At Island Hospital in Anacortes, CEO Charles Hall said the volume of patients needing service will determine which services restart first.

Staff is reaching out to patients who may have had their schedules interrupted to set appointments. As the volume returns, the hospital will work to bring back all of the staff members who have been unable to work while services were closed.

Leadership continues to require screening at each entrance for symptoms of COVID-19, including temperature screenings to check for fever, Hall said. Right now, masks are required while on the hospital campus and visitors are still limited, though the limits on visitors is under review by hospital leaders, he said.

Like at United General, Island Hospital began performing certain semi-urgent services in early May.

Interim COO Ann Raish talked about that ramp up at the hospital board meeting last week.

Starting things back up can’t be looked at as “flipping a switch,” Raish said at the meeting. Instead, it’s more like “turning a dial.”

National surveys have shown people aren’t necessarily comfortable to immediately return to services, Raish said. The hospital staff is working on outreach to try to combat any ideas that the hospital is not a safe place to be, she said.

The hospital is emphasizing safety in its messaging and letting patients know it’s safe to come back, Raish said.

— Skagit Publishing staff contributed to this report.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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