Keeping Our Patients Safe in the COVID-19 Environment

Don’t Put Your Heart Health on Hold 

Almost every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a heart attack according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But, still, the number of heart patients seeking urgent care during the COVID-19 outbreak has dropped by as much as 70%. 

“There are reversible heart conditions that will benefit from immediate attention,” says Hal Skopicki, MD, PhD, Co-Director, Stony Brook University Heart Institute; Chief, Cardiology; and Director, Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathy Center. “If you think you’re having a heart attack or other heart issue, don’t try and ride it out on your own because of COVID concerns. Getting immediate help can mean the real difference between heart trouble that is treated with minimal or no loss of function and heart trouble that may be life-threatening.”

It is important to get to the hospital right away if you experience heart attack symptoms, such as chest pain, trouble breathing, lightheadedness, slurred speech or numbness or weakness in one or both arms and legs. And, women are more likely than men to have symptoms that also include debilitating fatigue and nausea or vomiting.  

How We Are Keeping You “COVID-Safe” 

Guided by our nationally recognized infection prevention experts and the recommendations from public health organizations including the CDC, we have implemented the following hospital-wide measures to ensure our patients and healthcare workers are COVID-safe:

  • Screening of all patients, visitors and staff for body temperature, COVID-19 symptoms and previous travel.
  • All patients and visitors wear a mask or face covering.  
  • Separate and specific zone designations for patients with and suspected of having COVID-19 and patients who do not have COVID-19. 
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by staff members at all times when caring for patients.  
  • Waiting rooms, entryways and offices reconfigured to ensure social distancing. 
  • Hand sanitizer available at each entrance and throughout the hospital.  
  • Public areas disinfected often with special attention given to frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, armrests and handrails.

The Stony Brook VAD Program: Just One Example of Exceeding the Standard  

In addition to meeting and exceeding all COVID-19 safety recommendations, the entire Stony Brook Heart Institute community and each of our departments and programs have been working hand-in-hand to put into place patient guidelines that take into consideration the unique care requirements of our most vulnerable hospital populations. 

Our Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) Program is just one example of a Stony Brook heart program going “above and beyond” for our patients.  

Patients with advanced heart failure may experience a poor quality of life despite the best medical management. A ventricular assist device or VAD, also called a left ventricular assist device or LVAD, may be an option for these patients. An LVAD is a surgically implanted, battery-powered pump that supports the lower left ventricle (the heart’s main pumping chamber), helping a severely damaged heart to do its job more efficiently. 

The VAD can be used as an intermediary step before heart transplantation—a “bridge” to transplantation—or, in patients who, due to advanced age or medical condition are not transplant candidates, as a long-term “destination” device. 

Our Program Protocols  

Our VAD Program has proudly adopted the following patient procedures, which are also being carried out throughout all of our cardiac care services. 

Only a Phone Call Away 
Checking in with all of our patients by telephone on a regular basis to stay on top of their condition and care. 

“This is wonderful way to touch base whether a patient has a concern or question they would like to raise or they just want to chat,” says Allison McLarty, MD, Co-Director of the VAD program. “We do this whether they are local or live a distance away.  

“Our VAD coordinators are passionate about what they do and are critical to the success of our program. They really know our patients and, in truth, the only thing missing from these calls is the hug that used to happen when we saw them in person.” 

Stopping By for an E-Visit 
In order to see a patient without having to physically bring them into the hospital, remote “telehealth” is used as often as possible for both before and after procedures. 

“I’m a huge advocate and proponent of using telemedicine when appropriate,” says Michelle Weisfelner Bloom, MD, Director of Outpatient Services at the Stony Brook Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathy Center. “For patients with particular COVID concerns or other reasons why an in-person visit is not ideal, I'm more than happy to start with a virtual visit.” 

Up Close and Personal  
For some of our current VAD patients and those who may need a VAD, the best care means being seen in-person or scheduled for a procedure sooner rather than later.  

“The well-being of our patients is our highest priority and if we’re needed at your home, we will go to your home,” says Peter Reilly, NP, VAD Coordinator. “When it is necessary to come to the hospital, you are met by one of our coordinators who will get you safely to the appropriate part of the facility.”  

Here, One of Our VAD Patients  

Meet Patricia Pautch 

With a twenty-three year history of congestive heart failure, Patricia (Pat) Pautch, 70, a retired pre-K teacher, mother and grandmother, learned last summer that her already damaged heart had weakened to the point that, although, “medicine, exercise and a faith in God,” had served her well for decades, her heart would now need a bit of a boost in the form of surgical intervention. And in August 2019 Stony Brook doctors implanted Pat with a ventricular assist device (VAD) — a battery-powered artificial heart pump.  

“The surgery went well,” says the smart and funny Setauket resident. “I was soon feeling so much better and would head over to the hospital every week, as much for a dressing change as for the great company of the VAD team,” smiles Pat. “Until late March 2020. Needless to say, like so much else, the coronavirus changed everything.” 

As a high-risk individual with a pre-existing condition, Pat’s doctors felt at that time she should not enter a hospital environment, and, so, the hospital chose, instead, to go to Pat.  

“Every Tuesday for almost three months, Jill, one of the VAD coordinators, would come to my home and change my dressing,” shares Pat. “In addition to which she would usually bring a laugh and some warm words.” 

“I also got an e-visit every month from Dr. Skopicki—Director of the Heart Failure Center—just to see how I was doing.” 

Since the end of June, as the number of COVID cases at the hospital has eased up, Pat has again returned to visiting Stony Brook Heart Insitute weekly for her dressing changes. 

“One of the VAD coordinators meets you at the door and every member of the VAD team — the doctors, nurses, coordinators, everyone — walks you through it all,” says Pat. “And they relieve you of any anxiety. I just feel very safe and in good hands with everyone at the hospital. If you are afraid to come in for care, don’t be. They are there for you every step of the way.” 

Put Your Heart Health First

If you are at risk or if someone in your family has a heart condition, it’s important to schedule a visit with a cardiologist for preventive care. Our cardiologists can help you improve your heart health and/or prevent the progression of cardiovascular disease with a comprehensive heart disease risk assessment and treatment options.

Do something good for your own heart health by taking a free heart health assessment now.

For information and appointments

Call (631) 44-HEART (444-3278)