Safety

COVID-19 and the Flu: Time to Arm Yourself with a Flu Shot

Posted on Sep 17, 2020 in Safety, Scroll Images, Uncategorized, Wellness

This fall, we could face a flu season like no other. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s possible to become sick with the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. You don’t want to risk being infected with both because as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people infected with COVID-19 and flu may be more likely to be hospitalized with severe and sometimes deadly disease.

Getting a flu shot this season may also help conserve potentially scarce health care resources like personal protective equipment (PPE), and reduce the burden on healthcare systems as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For these reasons, it’s more important than ever to get the flu vaccine this year,” says Bill Isenberg, M.D., Sutter Health’s chief quality and safety officer. “As we await a vaccine for COVID-19, we very strongly encourage people to get flu shots to boost their immunity and protect themselves and the people they love from the flu.”

“Even without the added threat of COVID-19, getting a flu shot is one of the most important things you can do to help lower your risk for getting sick with the flu, avoid suffering through days or weeks of illness and help prevent spreading the infection to those around you, at home, at work and in the community,” says Sutter Health’s medical director of Pharmacy and Infection Control, Jeffrey Silvers, M.D.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year more than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized for flu, and typically around 50,000 die from it. A flu shot is important even if you’re staying home more—or working from home—because you still face potential exposure to the influenza virus, which you can then spread to others.

When should you get the flu vaccine?

“Timing is important,” says Dr. Silvers. “The CDC recommends people get vaccinated for influenza before the flu begins spreading in the community, since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop and begin to provide protection.”

In the U.S., flu typically begins circulating in October. That means the ideal time to get vaccinated for flu is late September through early October.

“Vaccination is still beneficial as long as flu viruses are circulating. If you haven’t been vaccinated by Halloween or even Thanksgiving, it can still be protective to get vaccinated through December or later,” says Dr. Isenberg. “The influenza season usually peaks in January or February, but sometimes the virus is still circulating in the community as late as May.”


How can you get a flu shot?

  • The process to get a flu shot will be different this year because of COVID-19.
  • Vaccination at your Sutter-affiliated doctor’s office is by appointment only.
  • Existing patients can schedule appointments through the patient portal My Health Online or by phone beginning September 17.
  • Sutter Walk-in Care accepts walk-ins and scheduled appointments for flu shots, whether you are an established Sutter patient or not.


Who should get this year’s flu shot?

  • For nearly everybody, getting an annual flu shot remains the first and most important step to help prevent the spread of the flu—you don’t want to get the flu and COVID-19.
  • Getting the flu shot is especially important for people in high-risk groups: pregnant women, elderly, children under five and those with other health conditions.
  • The CDC recommends everyone six months and older get a flu shot every year.
  • The CDC recommends a flu shot for all women who are pregnant during flu season. (Pregnant women should not receive the nasal spray vaccine.)

Make sure kids are up to date on vaccinations

Dr. Isenberg says it’s also a good idea, before flu season is in full swing, to make sure children are up to date on their vaccinations including chickenpox, Diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (DTaP), Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and Polio.

“Now is an ideal time to visit your child’s pediatrician, before the annual flu kicks in and pediatricians’ offices are inundated with sick children,” says Dr. Isenberg.

To find a Sutter primary care physician, click here.

Is it safe to go to the doctor’s office or Sutter Walk-In-Care?

Sutter Walk-In Care centers and Sutter-affiliated doctor’s offices have taken several steps to help minimize spread as the pandemic continues. These measures include mandatory masking for patients and visitors, performing extra cleaning and disinfecting, and screening employees before each shift.

Protect yourself and your family. Get a flu shot.

21 Sutter Hospitals and Medical Foundations Earn Recognition as Leaders in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality

Posted on Sep 3, 2020 in Quality, Safety, Scroll Images, Uncategorized

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— Twenty-one affiliates within Sutter Health’s integrated, not-for-profit network earned recognition as an “LGBTQ Health Care Equality Leader” by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC), the educational arm of the country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization. The designation was awarded in the 13th edition of HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index (HEI).

The HEI recognizes facilities that meet key criteria, including foundational elements of LGBTQ patient-centered care, LGBTQ patient services and support, employee benefits and policies, and LGBTQ patient and community engagement.

“We are dedicated to providing compassionate, high-quality care that is free from discrimination and affirming of gender identity and sexual orientation. We are equally committed to sustaining a supportive work environment where our employees and clinicians can reach their full potential,” said Jill Ragsdale, Sutter Health senior vice president and chief people & culture officer. “This honor is meaningful for our teams because it shows how we are living our values each day. We are proud to care for patients in one of the most diverse regions in the U.S. It is our mission to respect and serve all.”

The 21 Sutter Health affiliates earning a spot on the 2020 HEI Index include:

The 21 Sutter Health network affiliates recognized join a select group of healthcare facilities nationwide named as Leaders in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality. A record 765 healthcare facilities actively participated in the HEI 2020 survey. In addition, the HRC Foundation proactively researched key policies at more than 1,000 non-participating hospitals.

“From the previously unimaginable impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the horrific incidents of racial violence targeting the Black community, the events of the past year have brought about so much pain and uncertainty. Yet, even during this moment of profound unrest, we are seeing more of our humanity and resilience come to life. For me, nowhere is that more true than through the tireless dedication of our health care providers and the intrepid support and administrative staff members by their sides that show up every day to ensure this life-saving work continues,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “The health care facilities participating in the HRC Foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) are not only on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are also making it clear from their participation in the HEI that they stand on the side of fairness and are committed to providing inclusive care to their LGBTQ patients. In addition, many have made strong statements on racial justice and equity and are engaging in efforts to address racial inequities in their institutions and their communities. We commend all of the HEI participants for their commitment to providing inclusive care for all.”

For more information about the HEI, or to download a free copy of the report, visit www.hrc.org/hei.

Video Visits by Flashlight: Telehealth Keeps the Doctor ‘In’ Even When the Power is Out

Posted on Aug 25, 2020 in Carousel, Expanding Access, Quality, Safety, Scroll Images, Transformation, Uncategorized

When the next heat wave causes power outages or the next round of wildfires prompt evacuations throughout Northern California, chances are the global COVID-19 pandemic will still be unfolding. Under any or all of these conditions, we want to remind patients how and when to seek care, even during displacement or power loss.  

First: Make Your Smart Phone Smarter with the My Health Online App.

There is no question that mobile phones have become essential to our lives, and that reality has been underscored during the current emergency. Your phone may already receive alerts, including air quality reports, evacuation announcements or planned power shutoff notices, but is your phone optimized for your personal health needs?

If you haven’t already, we encourage Sutter patients to download the My Health Online smart phone app from the Apple App Store or Google Play. The My Health Online smartphone app helps connect you with your care team – even if you lose power or are displaced – provided you have wireless or mobile internet access and a charged phone battery.

“When we created the My Health Online patient portal we knew we would need a mobile phone option, but I don’t think we realized how important it would be in the context of natural disasters,” said Albert Chan, M.D., chief of digital patient experience at Sutter Health. Within the app you can send a message to your care team, view lab and most test results, securely access health records and schedule and complete a video visit.

“While we previously saw the app as a convenience, we now know that it’s a necessity; in fact we have a dedicated support team at (866) 978-8837 to troubleshoot any issues that patients have activating the app,” said Dr. Chan.

Second: Know that Severe Weather Can Cause Symptoms to Worsen, Quickly.

The smoke from wildfires, the heat in late summer and the stress of evacuation or a power outage can compromise your immune system and put stress on your body. “People who already have heart or lung-related illness, and some who don’t, may need personalized medical care to manage through this period,” said Chan. Video visits can often help doctors determine the severity of symptoms, provide medical advice and guide someone to in-person care as needed; providing reassurance in a very uncertain time.

“Bottom line, if you experience new or worsening symptoms we encourage you to schedule a same-day video visit with your doctor or another provider in the Sutter network – don’t ignore your body’s signals.”

You can also use the “symptom checker” that is integrated into Sutter Health’s website and My Health Online patient portal. Originally launched in February 2019, the self-led symptom checker is a kind of online survey that helps patients decide whether to engage in self-care or to seek care, if they need an in-person appointment or a video visit, and if they need to be seen now or soon.

As always, call 911 or go directly to the nearest hospital emergency department if you are experiencing chest pain or having difficulty breathing.   

Third: Don’t Let an Evacuation Erode Your Health.

“Often, when people are ordered to evaluate they are in such a great rush that they leave medications, medical equipment, or medical instructions behind,” said Chan. “We recommend preparing a ‘go bag’ for each member of the family with medications and any needed medical supplies, just in case.”

But if you have to evacuate without medications, remember an often- overlooked value of video visits is their role in enabling physicians to authorize new prescriptions or call in short-term refills of existing medications to pharmacies near a patient’s temporary relocation spot. “We will do everything in our power to assist with your medication or medical device needs, so please remember to reach out as soon as you are somewhere safe.”

Wildfires, Extreme Heat, Unhealthy Air During a Pandemic

Posted on Aug 20, 2020 in Carousel, People, Quality, Safety, Scroll Images

An Integrated Network Continues to Serve Northern California Communities

SACRAMENTO, Calif. –Wildfires fueled by high temperatures and winds are spreading across Northern California. Firefighters are battling to stop the blazes, which have forced thousands of people out of their homes. And to top it off, smoke from the fires is causing extremely unhealthy air quality in many areas, compounding respiratory issues concerns–especially for people with COVID-19.

Sutter’s round-the-clock emergency management system is monitoring the progress of the fires and the impact the heavy smoke is having on some of our care sites. Sutter has a long-standing commitment to the health and safety of the communities we serve, especially in times of natural disasters. During these unprecedented times, our integrated network is able to quickly move and redirect resources to those most in need. And despite the many challenges we’re all facing right now, Sutter hospitals and the vast majority of our clinics are open and stand ready to care for patients.

“I want to thank the thousands of firefighters and additional emergency personnel who are responding to these blazes and patients with medical conditions triggered by them—especially the physicians, nurses and staff across Sutter’s integrated network,” said Sarah Krevans, Sutter Health’s president and CEO. “Our teams have been on the front lines caring for patients since the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and now they are simultaneously helping support their communities during these fires.”

December 11, 2017 – Fire crews, using controlled burns, create a barrier in the foothills of Carpinteria, California, in the hopes of containing the Thomas fire in Southern California.

“We are deeply saddened by the devastation the firestorms are waging on our communities and we are committed to supporting wildfire victims and evacuees,” said William Isenberg, MD, Phd, Sutter Health’s chief quality and safety officer. “Sutter Health team members also live in these communities and we know many of their homes and families have been impacted by the fires, so we are activating employee resources like emergency financial assistance.”

Resources to Help You Access Care

Although some care sites may be experiencing temporary closures due to evacuation orders, air quality concerns or COVID-19, listed here, care team members at those care sites are available to determine which available options work best to help patient access care during the closures:

  • Video visits with a care provider
  • Obtaining in-person care at another Sutter facility
  • Rescheduling services once it is safe to do so

In partnership with clinicians and care sites across our network, Sutter’s Mental Health & Addiction Care team is also available to assist with your mental wellness. Even if you are not directly affected by the wildfires across Northern California, just hearing about them may trigger memories from a past event, leading to fear, anxiety or other strong emotions. If you or a loved one needs help, please contact your primary care physician or access the emergency resources found here.

How to Stay Safe from Double Whammy of Smoke and COVID-19

Posted on Aug 20, 2020 in Safety, Scroll Images

With wildfire smoke settling in every Northern California community, and with COVID-19 still a major health concern, Dr. William Isenberg, Sutter Health’s Chief Quality & Safety Officer, has two words of advice on the best way to avoid the associated health risks: Stay inside.

“With COVID-19, we have sheltered in place and limited our public interactions, and with the smoke in the air, sheltering in place is even more important,” Dr. Isenberg says. “Stay home, close the windows and doors, try not to let the outside air in. Those are the optimal recommendations to keep everyone safe during this unprecedented combination of a deadly pandemic and wildfire smoke, not to mention the heat of summer.”

Especially at risk of lung issues from the smoke are children, the elderly, those with underlying respiratory and heart issues, and pregnant women. “Inhalation of this wildfire smoke can cause premature labor,” he said. But he reiterated that prolonged exposure to all this smoke can cause queasiness and heart attacks to even those who are not high risk.

Dr. Isenberg offers the following precautions during this time of poor air:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible, limiting opening of doors and windows.
  • Use air conditioning in your homes and vehicles, if you have it. Malls, if open, are great places for people without their own air conditioning at home.
  • Do not run fans that move smoky outdoor air inside, such as whole-house fans. If your home is equipped with an automated venting system, make sure you turn it off.
  • Keep wellhydrated. Dr. Isenberg recommends drinking a minimum of 8 ounces of water eight to 10 times daily.  
  • Use your maintenance puffers/inhalers if you have asthma, emphysema or other respiratory diseases, and carry your rescue puffer/inhaler with you if you leave your home.
  • When out in public, make sure you wear your cloth or surgical mask. While these won’t protect you from the small smoke particles, they do help in controlling the coronavirus.

Air Now also has information about how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke, along with a chart that pinpoints the Air Quality Index of your town.

For further information, listen to this podcast from Capital Public Radio, which features an interview with Vanessa Walker, D.O., a Sutter Health pulmonologist.  

COVID-19 and Wildfire Smoke: Doctor Answers Masking Questions

Posted on Aug 20, 2020 in Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, Safety, Scroll Images

OAKLAND, Calif. –Wildfire season is suddenly upon us and thick smoke from multiple wildfires around Northern California, coupled with hot weather and the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to some confusion about masks: when to wear them and what type is best.

Now Ronn Berrol, M.D., medical director for Alta Bates Summit Medical Center’s emergency department in Oakland, offers tips to help you and your loved ones stay healthy in the Q & A below and in this KTVU interview.

Q: It’s so hot and smoky out! Do I need to wear a mask?

A: Yes! It’s important that everyone who can medically do so continues to wear a mask when they are in public to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Between the heat, the smoky air and COVID-19, the virus still poses a significant risk.

Q: Does it matter what type of mask I wear? Will a homemade mask protect me or do I need an N95 mask?

A: With respect to COVID-19, for most people it’s probably more important that you wear a mask whenever you are in public than the type of mask you wear. This is because the COVID-19 virus is transmitted to others by droplets that people produce when they exhale—and especially when they cough, laugh, sing or speak loudly. By wearing a mask, you help protect the people around you.

If you have a lung condition such as asthma, emphysema or COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), that makes you more susceptible to wildfire smoke, the type of mask you wear becomes more important. This is because tiny particulates and chemicals in the smoke can cause inflammation or difficulty breathing. And homemade cloth masks or surgical masks are not very effective at filtering out harmful particulates and chemicals from the smoky air. To filter out these particulates, an N95 mask is preferred. However, N95 masks can be more difficult to breathe through and lead to more overheating when it’s hot out.* So my advice is to stay indoors, keep doors and windows closed and use air conditioning and an air purifier, if you have them. I also recommend changing your home’s air filter and running the air conditioner in your car on recirculate so you’re not pulling outside air in.

Q: What else can I do to protect myself from the heat and the smoke?

A: It’s always a good idea to keep hydrated –when you are well-hydrated, your body can better respond to infectious challenges and the mucous membranes in your nose and lungs are better able to protect your body from environmental insults like smoke particulates. If you have asthma, emphysema or other respiratory illness, use your maintenance inhalers as directed by your doctor and be sure to carry your rescue inhaler with you if you do have to leave your home. Contact your doctor if you experience symptoms such as asthma, difficulty breathing or chest pain.

Read more about wildfire smoke and its effect on lung health here.

Read more about Sutter’s respiratory care clinics here.

*Important note: Some N95 masks have valves in them that vent exhaled breath without any filtration. Though they may be helpful to filter out wildfire particulates, these vented N95 masks will not provide protection for nearby individuals in the event the wearer has COVID-19.