How is MD Anderson protecting cancer patients from COVID-19?
Last updated Aug. 11, 2020
Cancer patients are uniquely vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, because their immune systems are compromised due to disease and/or treatment. That’s why MD Anderson has taken special precautions to protect the health and safety of our cancer patients when they visit our campuses during the pandemic.
“From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, MD Anderson has committed to going above and beyond to ensure the health and safety of our employees and our cancer patients. Guided by President Dr. Peter Pisters’ astute leadership, we hold ourselves to a higher standard because our patients represent the largest and densest immunocompromised population in the world,” says Welela Tereffe, M.D., MD Anderson’s chief medical officer. “Providing exceptional cancer care remains our top priority, and right now that also means keeping our patients safe from COVID-19, which will continue to be part of our lives until we reach a widespread state of immunity.”
As we learn to live with the coronavirus in the community, MD Anderson remains responsive to the needs of our patients and employees.
Here are 12 precautions and processes MD Anderson has in place to keep our patients safe from COVID-19 while receiving cancer care.
1. Screening everyone for COVID-19 symptoms when they enter our campuses.MD Anderson is screening everyone, including our employees, for COVID-19 symptoms at entrances to all of our campuses. This screening includes a thermal temperature check as you enter the building. For added protection, we have plexiglass enclosures around screening personnel at all patient entrances on our campuses.
2. Asymptomatic COVID-19 testing for many patients: MD Anderson is requiring all new patients to be tested for COVID-19 before their first visit. Your patient access representative will schedule your appointment and give you more information. You will need to be in Houston at least 36 hours prior to your new patient appointment for a scheduled COVID-19 test at one of our testing locations. If you previously tested negative for COVID-19 at home, you will still need to be re-tested. Learn more about new patient COVID-19 testing.
We’re also testing all inpatients at admission and are testing patients prior to:
procedures that generate respiratory aerosols, involve the mucous membranes, or induce significant coughing, such as a lung biopsy
We are providing testing for patients when a household member has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days, too. Outside test results are helpful to share with your care team, but will not replace MD Anderson’s COVID-19 testing if your care team determines you need it. You will get more details if you are scheduled for COVID-19 nasal swab testing.
Ensuring the safety and health of our workforce is also a top priority. As part of MD Anderson’s commitment to caring for our patients, we also test all employees who have coronavirus symptoms, as well as those who request asymptomatic testing. We also require our employees to undergo testing after travel outside the state of Texas.
3. Asking everyone to wear medical face masks on our campuses at all times. Every patient will be given a medical face mask when entering our campus. For your safety and that of other patients and our employees, we ask that you wear this mask the entire time you are on our campus. If you have a cloth mask, we ask that you instead wear the medical face mask you receive while at MD Anderson.
Patients who are admitted to our hospital are asked to wear face masks during transport and procedures, and when a staff member is within 6 feet.
4. Not allowing visitors, with limited exceptions. To reduce the spread of infection, MD Anderson has a no visitor policy at this time. This means family members or personal caregivers cannot accompany our adult patients at all of our locations until further notice. There will be special instances when a patient needs one adult caregiver to assist them. This caregiver must be physically able to assist the patient, be able to care for themselves and wait on their own, either outside the facility or in a waiting area, and pass screening questions. Due to safety concerns, patients and caregivers who meet exception criteria should not bring anyone with them to an appointment. This includes children and adults who are unable to care for or move themselves. Appointments will be rescheduled if a patient or caregiver arrives with someone who is dependent upon them.
“We know what a vital role caregivers and family members play in our patients’ care, and we understand how difficult it is for caregivers to not be able to join their loved ones at appointments in person,” says Tereffe. “However, because our cancer patients are at increased risk for COVID-19 infection, it’s vital that we limit the number of people coming onto our campus. We are grateful for our patients’ and caregivers’ continued support and understanding as we work to ensure their health and safety.”
5. Social distancing.MD Anderson asks that our patients and employees maintain a distance of at least 6 feet at all times while on our campuses, including when you’re entering our buildings for screening. We have limited seating in our reception areas for this reason. To help reduce the amount of time you wait between appointments, ask your provider about getting your labs and imaging done the day before your visit.
There are limited exceptions when employees may need to be closer than 6 feet to provide direct patient care, including blood draws, physical exams, procedures and imaging, such as CT scans and MRIs.
6. Caring for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in a separate area. To reduce the potential for COVID-19 spread, a dedicated team is seeing all patients with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 diagnosis in a separate area, with a dedicated team of staff wearing personal protective equipment. Likewise, all inpatients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 diagnoses are treated in a dedicated COVID-19 unit, which separates them from other inpatients and has its own care team. Read a nurse’s reflections on working in our COVID-19 unit.
7. More virtual visits. MD Anderson is scheduling more patients for virtual visits, so that you can continue to get the care you need without leaving home, while also reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread on our campuses. At this time, virtual visits are available for existing MD Anderson patients who have a clinic follow-up visit or a consult visit with a MD Anderson provider, depending on where they live. Each state has different regulations regarding video visits and the practice of medicine by out-of-state clinicians. Talk to your care team to learn what may be available and best for you. Learn how to get the most out of your virtual visit.
8. Scheduling some chemotherapy treatments at locations outside the Texas Medical Center. We’re schedulingsome patients’ chemotherapy treatments at our locations in West Houston, League City, Sugar Land and The Woodlands to limit the number of people on our Texas Medical Center Campus. This protects our most immunocompromised patients who are receiving care in the hospital. Learn about our locations.
9. Curbside medication pickup at our Texas Medical Center Campus. To help our patients and limit the number of people on campus, our outpatient pharmacy team is offering curbside medication pickup at the Texas Medical Center Campus at these locations:
Main Building: The Pavilion entrance during the week, The Aquarium entrance on the weekend
Mays Clinic: Mays Clinic Valet
Rotary House: near the Garage 17 entrance
Patients must call ahead, and payment is accepted by phone prior to pick up. Call the pharmacy if you have questions about this process.
For inpatients, our pharmacy team is delivering medications at the bedside before they are discharged.
10. Limiting the number of employees on our campuses. To help limit the number of people on our campuses and protect our patients and workforce members, employees whose presence on campus is not deemed essential are working remotely. Employees who must be on campus but aren’t involved in direct patient care have been separated from patient care areas. We’ve also cancelled all volunteer shifts until further notice.
11. Closing the valet and certain amenities. We’ve temporarily closed valet parking and other amenities to further protect our patients. If you are driving yourself to our Texas Medical Center Campus and need assistance from the garage into the building, please drive to either The Aquarium Valet entrance or Mays Clinic Valet. Our valet team will direct you on where to park. Then they will meet you at your garage with a wheelchair and help you get into the building. Our Patient Transportation team will take over once you’re in the building.
Other services and amenities that are temporarily closed include:
Patient Relaxation Area
The Learning Centers
Salus at our Houston-area locations
Mail station in the Main Building
Grab-n-Go foods are available at our dining locations, and limited, socially distanced seating is available in Cafe Anderson in the Main Building, Waterfall Cafe in Mays Clinic and Apicius in Rotary House. Patients are also welcome to eat in public spaces, such as our lobbies and reception areas, while staying at least 6 feet away from others. Gift shops at our Texas Medical Center Campus are open.
12. Virtual support programs. Because large group gatherings pose an increased risk for COVID-19 spread, MD Anderson has canceled or postponed on-campus patient programs and conferences until further notice. But we recognize how important support programs are for our patients and their families. That’s why MD Anderson is now offering many virtual programs, such as online support groups, lunch and learns, nutrition classes and other virtual activities. Our experts continue to come up with new ways to keep patients and caregivers connected and to meet their physical and emotional needs during the pandemic.
MD Anderson’s operations continue to evolve in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We remain prepared and ready to respond in the event of a sustained increase in COVID-19 cases or signals of a second peak.
“Our patients and their families are at the heart of every decision we are making,” Tereffe says. “We understand how overwhelming a cancer diagnosis can be and that facing cancer during the coronavirus pandemic adds another layer of challenges. But we want you to know that we are here for you and that you can – and should – continue to feel safe coming to MD Anderson for your cancer care.”
If you have questions or concerns specific to your care at MD Anderson, send a message to your care team via MyChart.