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Amid coronavirus, L+M Healthcare embracing telemedicine

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New London — COVID-19 has been a bane of health care, but it also has accelerated clinicians’ use of technology that promises to revolutionize the doctor-patient relationship.

Patrick Green, president and chief executive officer of Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, said as much Friday in announcing the hospital’s receipt of a $384,000 grant to help fund the purchase of “telehealth” carts and other remote diagnostic equipment being used in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Green was joined at a news conference by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who was instrumental in securing the federal money, New London Mayor Michael Passero and L+M physicians.

“As part of our efforts to slow the spread of the virus, we were able to utilize telemedicine to ensure that our patients were cared for safely — even from the comfort of their home,” Green said. “We are fortunate that Lawrence and Memorial previously had access to telemedicine technology, but the $384,000 federal grant allowed us to expand those capabilities to more patients and their families during this pandemic.”

Over the past three months, almost 1,900 L+M patients have scheduled outpatient appointments via telehealth, Green said.

L+M has deployed 88 telehealth carts — mobile workstations equipped with computer monitors — throughout the hospital and 42 iPads that are provided to patients. Westerly Hospital, part of L+M Healthcare, has 33 carts and 20 iPads.

“These telehealth carts play a major role in limiting staff exposure to the virus by reducing the number of times required to enter a patient’s room,” Green said. “Physicians and caregivers are able to communicate with patients in a safe and secure way. When we implemented our visitor restriction policy, we deployed 42 iPads that made it possible for patients to see and talk with their families and spiritual care providers. Using telehealth, our care teams were able to include families in discussions about treatment plans for their loved ones.”

Blumenthal called the technology “transformative,” citing its potential for increasing access to health care and reducing costs. Still, he said, telehealth is not a substitute for medical care.

Dr. Craig Mittleman, regional director of emergency medical services at L+M, said communicating with COVID-19 patients via telehealth reduces the risks clinicians face. And, Blumenthal said, reducing the number of physical interactions with COVID-19 patients can help save personal protective equipment, or PPE, which clinicians must discard after such interactions.

L+M reported Friday that it was treating just seven COVID-19 patients, while Westerly Hospital had two. When L+M had 30 patients a month ago, officials said projections suggested the hospital’s COVID-19 patient count could peak at 50 to 60 patients by mid-June.

“We’re very blessed here. Our trends are currently downward,” Mittleman said, offering no new projections.

He said he believes the hospital is prepared to handle any increase in COVID-19 cases that might result from the state’s gradual reopening of nonessential businesses, a process that began May 20, or the reopening of the casinos, scheduled for Monday.

Unionized nurses, health care workers, technical professionals and home health aides employed by Yale New Haven Health, which includes L+M and Westerly Hospital, are rallying at 10:30 a.m. Saturday outside the union hall at 43 Converse Place in New London to raise awareness about what they say is a shortage of protective gear.

Elva Graveline, a 52-year-old certified nurse’s assistant at L+M, died May 19 due to heart complications associated with COVID-19.

During Friday's news conference, Green said hospital management regularly addresses employees’ concerns.

“We continue to have daily calls with the union leadership to discuss their concerns related to the pandemic, and they have a voice directly to our management team,” he said later in a statement. “While we think this line of direct communication is more collaborative and effective than a rally, the event will not be on our property and our operations will not be impacted. Our commitment is to stay focused on our objectives and facts.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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