Maribel Escobar discusses the safety measures ARA has implemented to keep patients and employees safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. She details what an appointment looks like now to ensure social distancing and even explains the special clinic were COVID positive or possibly positive patients are sent to get the imaging they need while keeping others safe.
Anchor: Welcome back to We Are Austin from Home. COVID-19 has certainly been a topic and a huge health concern of 2020 and likely to continue at least into parts of 2021. Keeping staff safe and protecting patients are top priorities at ARA Diagnostic Imaging. Maribel Escobar of the ARA COVID task force is joining me this morning to share more. Good morning Maribel, it’s great to see you.
Escobar: Good morning! Thank you for having me on, Trevor.
Anchor: It is absolutely our pleasure, especially to chat about such an important topic. You have a very special role at ARA. Tell us what you do.
Escobar: So I’m the Quality & Safety Manager for ARA. My department is in charge of overseeing the organization’s quality of service while maintaining safety efforts. I also sit on the COVID task force, which is led by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. John Kish. We make sure that our imaging centers are up to date with COVID protocols so that we can assure the safety of our patients and our employees.
Anchor: Wow, you know that is all such important work right now. Especially for patients when their safety is really top of mind. So, speaking of, what has ARA done in the past several months to make patients feel safe from COVID-19 when they visit?
Escobar: Well, thankfully the CDC and the state have provided great guidance. So, early on before COVID hit central Texas, we established this COVID task force and honestly, I think it’s the best thing, the best decision, ARA could have made during these tough times. I will say that our patient safety and employee safety is definitely top priority when making decisions and changes within the organization.
Anchor: That’s so special and it is great that you got an early start on that. It means we were even more prepared. So, I’m curious personally – what about patients that actually have COVID-19?
Escobar: So, we did see a need to provide a service for patients infected with COVID and so we established a respiratory diagnostic imaging center which is also called our RDIC. This center is located in Austin off of 38th Street and so any patients who are COVID positive or there may be a possibility that they have COVID and need chest X-ray imaging are sent to the RDIC. This gives us the opportunity to safely image these patients while keeping our other patients protected from COVID.
Anchor: Wow, that is very special. I’m super impressed, though I would expect nothing less from ARA. You guys are such pros there, that’s great to hear. So, we’re speaking of other patients, is ARA completely open for appointments?
Escobar: Yes, we are completely open to see patients for all exams with the exception of one of our sites in Austin off of Far West. That one is actually temporarily closed. We are expanding, so there’s renovations going on there but other than that all of our other imaging centers are open and seeing patients.
Anchor: Excellent. So, explain the experience a little bit to me. Can you describe what it’s like at ARA now during COVID-19?
Escobar: Sure. So, we have gone above and beyond to make it easy and safe for the patients to visit ARA. We are screening our employees and our patients on a daily basis. We are requiring masks of both our employees and our patients, especially to source control in our facilities. We do ask patients not to bring neck gaiters or masks that have a one-way valve as these have shown not to be as safe as the other masks. We’re also practicing social distancing when possible and of course cleaning. We have very thorough cleaning protocols, especially the exam rooms where the patients are being imaged. And the last item is that we incorporated sanitizing foggers. So, our evening crews at our outpatient imaging centers are using these foggers to sanitize the entire clinic each evening to make sure that it’s ready for the next day.
Anchor: Wow, you have gone above and beyond to ensure safety for patients and staff. And speaking of patients, you know they may be coming to ARA with a whole other set of health concerns or worries or anxiety so when a patient does come to ARA, what should they expect? What is the process like for them?
Escobar: For patients that are scheduled, they will receive a text message probably about an hour before their exam. In the text message, they will be asked to wait in their car when they arrive at the facility. Once they receive that message, they will also receive a COVID screening link so that they can fill out the screening form. Once that’s done, then they will receive a text message from ARA letting them know that they can enter the facility. They will be greeted by screeners which will go over their COVID questionnaire and see if there’s any questions or concerns. After that, then they are sent to the front desk so that they can get checked in. Now, if we have a lot of people in our imaging centers, we will ask patients to wait back in their car just to practice safe social distancing. But once that’s done and the technologist is ready to image the patient, then we send them another text message to come into the site. And by that time the technologist is ready to image the patient, so they take them back to the room. For patients who don’t have a schedule or not on the schedule, I’m sorry, an appointment, then they actually will come right in and be greeted by our screeners. Once that’s done and they get screened for COVID, then they will be sent to the front desk to go ahead and get checked in. And then the same process as I mentioned before.
Anchor: Well and as a member who worked so hard all of these safety efforts and on the task force, how do you feel about the success of your safety efforts?
Escobar: We feel our safety efforts are doing great. I am pleased to share that we have not had an employee test positive for COVID due to a patient interaction and vice versa so I definitely feel like the mask requirement and the social distancing is definitely working out in our imaging centers. So, I hope patients feel comfortable coming to our imaging centers.
Anchor: Yeah, your hard work seems to be paying off for sure. And I’m sure patients have really enjoyed knowing that you’re taking such good care of them. Have you had comments from patients about the ARA experience?
Escobar: Yes, we receive a lot of comments from patients. They feel very comfortable at our imaging center, very safe. Thankfully, we have an amazing frontline team that takes care of our patients and makes sure that they are safe at all times. We also have an amazing patient experience department that receives this patient feedback and they actually share the COVID feedback with my department so that we can review and make changes in the organizations as we go. So, we really appreciate all patient feedback, and we make sure and review all of it.
Anchor: Wow, that’s really important. The feedback must be super helpful. So, what would you like to tell people out there who are continuing to deal with COVID-19?
Escobar: So, I think the main thing is remembering to stay safe. Not just in the healthcare setting but also out in the community. We want to make sure that we are having our masks on, keeping our social distancing and this is not just for the health care facility, we also want to make sure that they’re doing this out in the community. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a lot of people being lax with safety measures. But they have to keep these safety measures in place so that they can protect themselves and their families. Another thing to remember is that we could be contagious and not know. Many people don’t experience symptoms so we have to make sure that we know that we can be contagious, and we can spread the virus. So, we have to make sure and keep our masks on and continue to social distance.
Anchor: Terrific. And very valuable advice there. And you know, I know there is terrific news on the horizon right now about vaccines. Are ARA employees looking forward to the COVID vaccine?
Escobar: Yes, we are very excited about the vaccine. We actually applied for it and got approved so we will be receiving the vaccine pretty soon. We don’t know when, but we do know that it will be soon. And then we also had some of our physicians who are faculty members at UT receive the vaccine this week at the UT Medical Center. I just like to let the community know that it is safe to come to ARA to get your imaging exams. We want to make sure that patients are not putting off very important exams that they should be having done. Especially those screening exams that they should be having every year. So again, just know that we have the COVID task force team, our frontline staff is amazing, and we’re here for you and here to make sure that you are safe when getting your imaging done.
Anchor: Wow, you really have thought of everything. It’s one less thing to worry about for patients when they visit ARA and I’m sure you have a wealth of more information on your website. Where can potential patients and viewers go to learn more?
Escobar: They can visit us at www.ausrad.com and we will be happy to answer any questions.
Anchor: Well, Maribel, thank you so much. We’re always grateful for the incredible work that ARA Diagnostic Imaging is doing to keep our community safe and healthy, but especially during these particularly trying times during the pandemic. It’s great to know you’ve taken one worry off everyone’s plate. Maribel, thanks for joining us.
Escobar: Thank you, Trevor.
VACCINES: ARA does not have any publicly available vaccines—we are passing ours along to groups that are set up for public vaccination. We appreciate your understanding.
MASKS: ARA continues to require employees and patients to wear masks at our imaging centers for the safety of all.