Emergency medicine physician Vik Gulati, MD, has always cared for patients with a wide variety of medical issues, and his mission has not changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the coronavirus crisis began, Dr. Gulati and the team at Scripps Clinic Urgent Care Rancho Bernardo didn’t miss a beat when it came to meeting their patients’ health care needs safely and efficiently, with empathy and compassion.
“We have always been honored to care for our patients … whether it is nausea, a simple fracture, a cut or diarrhea,” says Dr. Gulati. “This is our mission, and it hasn’t changed during the coronavirus crisis. We have gone to great lengths to adapt and change our processes to ensure patients and staff feel safe and are safe.”
The team quickly made changes to their processes to meet the challenge of caring for patients with COVID-19 symptoms, while they continued to care for their patients with other urgent care needs.
Among some of the more innovative features are the tents that have been set up outside of Scripps Urgent Care in Rancho Bernardo and other Scripps locations. The tent-like cabanas are for by-appointment COVID testing, while other tents are available to screen patients for COVID before they enter a Scripps facility. When patients show signs of the virus, they enter through a separate door to an isolated area away from other patients.
At Rancho Bernardo, those with concerns unrelated to COVID-19 are met by providers at their vehicle, if appropriate, to assess their symptoms and determine next steps, whether that is an X-ray, lab work or a visit inside the Urgent Care Center.
To protect everyone who enters Scripps facilities, all patients and visitors are screened at the entry doors. Additional enhanced infection prevention and safety measures include:
- Isolating patients with coronavirus
- Maintaining enhanced visitor restrictions at all our hospitals and clinics
- Requiring all physicians, staff members, patients and visitors to wear face coverings
- Rigorous cleaning and disinfecting protocols for all facilities and equipment
- COVID-19 testing for all patients being admitted to the hospital, OB patients and those scheduled for surgery
Patients and visitors to all Scripps facilities are asked to bring their own face coverings with them to help protect themselves and others.
“Whether it’s giving them advice on how to stay safe ... or just providing that listening ear in the moment of concern, it’s my honor and privilege.”
While an important priority was to create a safe environment at work, Dr. Gulati also had concerns for his safety and that of his family. As the father of a 3-year-old, he isolated himself at the height of the crisis for a week-and-a-half so he wouldn’t bring the virus home. This concern for others is reflected in the way he keeps empathy and compassion at the forefront every day – especially during this time of heightened anxiety and fear.
“One of the things I think we’ve been most proud of is the empathy and compassion we’ve been able to show all patients,” says Dr. Gulati. “We know this is a very scary time for the entire world, but at the Scripps Rancho Bernardo Urgent Care, we are doing our best to care for everyone.”
Dr. Gulati recalls seeing one of his first patients who had indications of COVID-19. He came in with all the classic symptoms for the previous 10 days, including loss of taste and smell, and shortness of breath. When Dr. Gulati went back into the room to tell the patient he probably had COVID-19 and may need to be hospitalized, they both conveyed their emotions through masks and other protective gear.
“I could see the fear in his eyes, asking if he was going to survive,” says Dr. Gulati. “I conveyed that I was there for him, and that he would receive the best care. It was a profound moment of connection.”
Dr. Gulati followed up with the patient and happily reports he was discharged and is doing well.
“This shows that we can overcome this; we can beat this,” he says. “I am so proud to have been a part of his care, as I am honored to be part of the care team for anybody who needs us."
Community support has sustained Dr. Gulati and his colleagues, from donations of electronics to cookies shaped like masks.
“We are unbelievably appreciative of the community that has turned out to support us,” says Dr. Gulati.
One donation that “powered up” the staff was cell phone chargers for vulnerable patients so they could stay connected with friends and family. Having this connection with family and friends can mean a great deal to an isolated patient.
In addition, doctors and nurses are leveraging technology like mobile phones to communicate with patients in isolation rooms. In this way the staff is able to provide follow-up care, such as lab results, without having to use personal protective equipment that is in short supply.
“I went into emergency medicine because I wanted to be able to help people when they were at their sickest,” says Dr. Gulati. “Whether it’s giving them advice on how to stay safe, the treatments they need to get better or just providing that listening ear in the moment of concern, it’s my honor and privilege to care for them.”