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Steubenville’s Teramana Cancer Center reopens

UP AND RUNNING — The Teramana Cancer Center at Trinity Health System reopened today after a two-week hiatus caused by three cases of COVID-19 among its staff. -- File photo

STEUBENVILLE — Trinity Health System’s Teramana Cancer Center is back in operation today, two weeks after closing due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The building closed March 27 after three staff members at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, the oncology side of the operation, tested positive for the coronavirus. All three are recovering and there were no “adverse patient effects,” said Stephanie Dutton, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center vice president and chief operating officer.

“We’ll be screening every patient and staff member at the door, asking them a series of questions and doing temperature screenings,” Dutton said Thursday. “We’ll also continue to provide surgical masks for all patients and all staff members who come into the space, ensuring we are protecting not only patients but also our staff. It’s very important.”

Dutton said they’d been providing masks for the staff for several weeks before the outbreak, “but today we made it mandatory for (them) to wear masks throughout the day, unless they’re on break or taking their meal break — but, at that point, we’ll require social distancing and limit the number of people in the break room.”

The entire staff spent the past 14 days in isolation to limit additional exposure, she added.

“We asked our team to be very focused on the quarantine period,” Dutton said. “We asked them to self-isolate for 14 days in their homes, to monitor for symptoms and practice stringent social distancing, even in their homes. They were not inviting other family members in, and they weren’t out doing things in the community. They really embraced it and did exactly what they were supposed to.”

While they were gone, Dutton said the cancer center was thoroughly sanitized to protect patients and staff.

“There are cleaning protocols in terms of the types of solutions, types of materials you can use to clean surfaces,” she said. “Our colleagues at Trinity deployed UV light to clean the facility, they had that going a couple of weeks ago. Then you do a deep clean to make sure it’s fully sanitized, ready for everyone to come back in — cleaning off surfaces, door knobs, anything people can come in contact with.”

And while the deep-cleaning was going on, Dutton said the staff continued to work from quarantine — calls were routed directly to them, and they were able to make calls and sort out which patients needed ongoing treatment during that 14-day window and which could tolerate a brief layover. She said those who needed uninterrupted treatment were able to use the Hillman Center’s Washington Cancer Center, and “our colleagues at Trinity were able to accommodate some patients in their infusion space.”

Dutton described it as “a relatively seamless experience” for patients.

“That’s the strength of Hillman and multiple locations — we were able to move very quickly in a very patient-centric manner,” she said. “(Our staff) did an amazing job of staying in touch with each other and with patients.”

“We’d never gone through something like that before, where we’ve had to close a cancer center as quickly as we needed to close that one,” she added. “It was very out of the norm — when we learned about the cases that were surfacing, we felt like we reacted as quickly as we could that Friday. We knew we had a couple cases, we knew very quickly we had to stop the risk — we made that decision (to close) very quickly.”

While their patient census fluctuates, she said on any given day, the Cancer Center treats in the range of 30-35 patients, and has about the same number seeing providers.

She said she’s not sure they’ll ever be able to pinpoint how and where their employees were infected, “but I believe we caught it early on.”

“Clearly, it had the risk of being disruptive,” Dutton said. “Not only do you have the COVID situation, but you also are telling patients you may need to move their treatments. That’s scary for them. Predictability is important to cancer patients, they like knowing what to expect. It was a little unnerving, but our staff was amazing — they never lost sight of the need to make sure their patients were taken care of.”

Dutton also said they moved as quickly as possible, under the circumstances.

“I think we reacted as quickly as we possibly could,” she said. “We were watching our case kind of unfold in front of us. To be honest, this COVID is not something any of us have done before, but we had a lot of support from UPMC and the experts.”

She said she knows there was concern about why the situation wasn’t communicated to media outlets sooner, “but we were taking care of patients and staff.”

“Would I do anything different now, if I could?” she said. “Knock on wood we won’t have to. But we learned how we could improve the process, what worked and what didn’t work, how to set people up quickly to work from their homes.

“COVID has created a health care culture like nothing we’ve ever seen. We’re delivering care in a completely different way than we did a month or two ago.”

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