With all the disruption in our lives due to the recent pandemic, I thought it would be important to let you know of NJNBI’s commitment to your care, our plans for treating patients under the current circumstances and re-affirm our pledge to giving our patients the best surgical care possible. I am a realist and a pragmatist, but I am also an optimist – so my tone is exactly that –realistic and optimistic.
New Jersey Neck & Back Institute is in the business of healing – and we will continue to care for your spine surgery needs as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. If you were scheduled to have surgery with us, you will STILL have your surgery. However, as our health system devises the best approach to triage COVID-19 patients, you should expect the date of surgery as well as the location may change.
If you are in need of a surgical consultation we will triage according to the severity of symptoms. Any decision to see patients immediately or delay evaluation will be consistent with our practice policies as they relate to the COVID-19 concerns. To minimize risks, we will be attending to the most acute patients in need of immediate care.
We will be keeping two office locations open, the North Brunswick and Lawrenceville locations. In some cases, we will be able to consult with patients over a telehealth connection such as video chat. We are strictly following CDC guidelines of sanitation and infection control, and we will not overlap appointments and have waiting rooms full of patients and family members. We have incorporated a strict screening process prior to any patient encounter to minimize the risk of exposure. With the exception of a physical exam, the staff will practice social distancing and wear masks. You may be asked to use hand sanitizer in the office before we interact.
Dr. LaRocca has admitting privileges at several hospitals, allowing us to operate offices in four locations and pick surgery locations closest to you and your family. Each hospital will have a different volume of COVID-19 patients as we move forward, and therefore they will each have to adjust to their own unique circumstances. Some have postponed elective surgeries entirely for the time being. This could mean that the original hospital we planned to perform your surgery at could change to a different facility and some may be an increased distance from your home. While that is an inconvenience, an increased driving distance is a relatively small obstacle to endure.
We anticipate that hospitals will be triaging which surgeries are performed based on medical necessity. While all of our neck and back surgeries are medically necessary, some are more urgent than others. Those that are urgent will be performed, with the possibility of a date and location change. Those surgeries that can wait a few weeks may simply get rescheduled once our health care system devises a way of directing and managing the increased COVID-19 patient flow. State officials will mandate where pandemic patients go and which hospitals will continue to perform surgeries for non-COVID-19. It is likely that field hospitals and other satellite sites such as cruise ships and college dormitories may be commandeered to handle the expected volume of COVID-19 patients in an effort to allow hospitals to continue their routine business of treating other matters. We expect that this will have to happen in the near short term.
As for the risks of contracting COVID-19 while getting surgery or recovering in the hospital, it would not be accurate to say there is no increased risk. However, infection of many kinds is an ever present risk in ANY hospital and successful surgery depends on precise and effective infection control. We do know how to control for infection in the operating room very well, and under the current circumstances the extra measures would include making sure that any surgery staff are non-infectious and quarantined away from the hospital if there is any question they are infected.
If you have been waiting to schedule an appointment and are likely in need of surgery, it’s important that you still evaluate your situation and we come up with a plan. Disc herniations and stenosis don’t spontaneously heal or stop hurting because there is a pandemic and it’s important we address a surgical plan to prevent any worsening even it means scheduling a surgery date further in the future.
Lastly, there are endless disruptions and adjustments in all our lives lately, some are shocking and some are frankly scary. But it’s important we remember that life will in fact go back to normal once we get through this phase. In the meantime, I have tremendous faith in our health care workers for their commitment, perseverance and ingenuity and have always had a front row seat to their excellence. I also have tremendous faith that people and society as a whole is generally good natured, and that will be evident as we go through this together.
My staff and I are immediately available to talk on the phone or email and answer any questions and to help with planning. Stay safe and stay positive!