Kaiser Permanente is opening several new medical offices and mental health and wellness centers across Northern California this year and next with an emphasis on social distancing.
“In addition to incorporating social distancing in our new buildings, we’ve already redesigned our existing spaces starting in March to protect members from the spread of COVID-19,” said Kevin Hart, Kaiser Permanente Northern California senior vice president of strategic development and technology. “It’s been nothing short of a Herculean effort.”
CDC Guidelines for Social Distancing
Kaiser Permanente is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, including signs and furniture placement to ensure 6-foot distances between people in buildings, mask wearing, hand sanitizing, temperature checks, health screening questions, continuous cleaning, and the placement of Plexiglass barriers between staff and members in appropriate areas such as pharmacies.
Figuring out how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside buildings is an effort everyone is grappling with, Hart said.
“We first look at it through the lens of what the best practices are in the entire health care industry and then we look at other industries to see what they are doing,” he said. “Members are seeing precautions put in place that make them feel safe to come back in.
Three major new medical office buildings are slated to open in Redwood City, Berkeley, and San Rafael next year. Also, next year a smaller medical office building is planned to come online in downtown San Francisco as well as a medical office expansion in the city of Alameda.
By the end of this year, a new in-vitro clinic will open in San Francisco and 2 new medical offices will open in Fresno.
New mental health and wellness offices already opened this year in Oakland, San Francisco, and Watsonville, with offices in Scotts Valley and Modesto expected to open this fall.
The new buildings represent a major investment and are an ongoing response to significant member growth at Kaiser Permanente that began with the start of the Affordable Care Act in 2013. That growth has recently leveled off, but the demand for local facilities remains, said Hart.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth visits proved to be a satisfying alternative to in-person visits and enabled Kaiser Permanente to care for patients while it implemented and refined social distancing measures in physical spaces.
In May, close to 80% of doctor visits were conducted by phone or video in response to the pandemic. By the end of August that high rate had declined as in-person care resumed, but it’s expected that demand for virtual visits will continue to be strong.
Smita Rouillard, MD, associate executive director of The Permanente Medical Group, said it is important to address deferred in-person care for issues such as elective procedures and many types of imaging procedures such as an ultrasound or MRI.
“At the end of the day, we are striving to be more efficient in our care delivery to meet our members where they are,” Dr. Rouillard said. “We want to give them choices.”
In the future, the number of virtual visits will likely stay higher than they were before the pandemic struck, she said, but new facilities to serve Northern California members will always be important.
“Our doors are open,” Dr. Rouillard said. “And we are prepared to deliver in-person care in a safe manner.”