WINCHESTER — Valley Health has postponed all elective and nonessential procedures and surgeries at its hospitals and outpatient surgery centers in response to the coronavirus.

“Valley Health will continue to allow procedures and surgeries for patients whose condition is emergent or urgent as determined by their physician,” according to a news release.

The decision, which took effect Monday, is consistent with guidance from governmental, clinical and regulatory organizations, the release states.

“Our top priorities are to protect our care team and all those we are caring for,” Dr. Iyad Sabbagh, chief medical officer for Valley Health, states in the release. He is overseeing the system’s clinical readiness and notes the organization is prepared, equipped and protected to respond effectively to COVID-19.

“I’ve been impressed with our team’s commitment, resourcefulness and resiliency,” he states. “We have key processes in place to preserve supplies, safeguard employees and physicians, continue providing excellent care to all other patients, and be prepared for surge capacity in the days ahead.”

Valley Health also announced that:

Its six off-site wellness and fitness centers have closed until further notice as a precautionary measure.

All public events and classes have been canceled or postponed, except patient education related to disease management or preparation for surgery. Outpatient rehabilitation services (physical, occupational and speech therapy) that, in many cases are co-located with fitness, remain operational.

“Our intent is to discourage our fitness members from gathering, but we do not want to deny patients the therapy they need,” said Sabbagh.

Promoting social distancing as the best way of halting the spread of illness in communities is something Valley Health said it’s embracing the effort wherever possible.

The hardest part in directing people to distance themselves from friends, neighbors and in some cases family members is the complication of not knowing who might be infected and where new cases might crop up, Dr. Jeff Feit said in a recent phone interview.

Feit, who is the chief medical officer for the Valley Health Medical Group and the organization’s vice president for population health, said if doctors knew who might be at risk for infection, they could “give stronger advice.”

“[It’s] important to take social distancing seriously,” he said. It’s a question of, “How do we help people stay healthy?”

Patient visitation at the region’s six hospitals and three long-term care facilities has been curtailed to reduce the risk of transmission, the release states. “Facility entrances have been closed to control access and manage screening. Visitation exceptions are being made at Winchester Medical Center for Labor and Delivery, Mother/Baby, Pediatrics and NICU, and at all facilities for special circumstances including end-of-life care, on a case-by-case basis.”

At a teleconferenced meeting on Thursday morning, President and CEO Mark H. Merrill assured the organization’s managers and directors around the region that Valley Health is learning from the experiences happening in other parts of the world where experts have had success so far in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

“We have seen quite a dramatic shift in our nation’s activities,” he told them. “Fear is a natural emotion that can sometimes overwhelm rational thinking. We are taking a logical and systematic approach in our preparation.”

Visit for updates on visitation policies, other service adjustments, and volunteer or employment opportunities related to COVID-19.

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