(Fergus Falls, Elbow Lake and Morris, MN) — Following Governor Tim Walz's Executive Order on allowing non-emergent elective health care surgeries and procedures to resume earlier this month, Lake Region Healthcare (LRH) enterprise, inclusive of Prairie Ridge Hospital and Health Services (PRHHS), is taking action to safely address more non-COVID health care needs. "As of last week, we have restarted many elective surgeries and procedures while continuing to maintain our readiness for a COVID-19 related surge," according to LRH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joshua Overgaard.
"We have taken significant safety measures to be able to deliver high quality and safe in-person care throughout our facilities to all those who need it during the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. Governor Walz's careful approach to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and buying time to build up critical resources to combat the virus has been supported by the Medical Staff and he said the efforts of everyone to flatten the curve made a measurable difference in giving the organization time to prepare.
"Now that we have a solid surge plan in place to care for higher volumes of COVID positive patients, a good handle on our personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies, and the Governor's go-ahead on resuming scheduled procedures, we want people to know that now is the time to help prevent a second unintended health crisis that could result from avoiding necessary care based on fear," Overgaard said. He said his concern is not only about surgeries and procedures, but also delaying or avoiding care for heart attacks, strokes, diabetes management and other health issues people are experiencing, according to Overgaard.
Surgeries resumed at about 50% capacity starting last week at the Fergus Falls, Elbow Lake and Morris locations. The extra time needed to safely prepare surgical spaces is one of the reasons for ramping back up slowly. State and federal best-practices for COVID-specific cleaning, disinfection, training, infection prevention, and care standards have been implemented and the organization is well-prepared to conduct surgeries during period of infectious disease according to Dr. Jeffrey Horak, one of the General Surgeons at all LRH and PRHHS locations. "This is what we do and always have been experts at doing; we safely conduct surgeries in hospitals where all kinds of other conditions are being treated. I am extremely concerned about the condition people are coming to us in these days," he said. "They are way sicker than they should be and are ending up hospitalized instead of having an outpatient procedure because their issues have gone on too long unaddressed. So, we are asking people to come to us for their care as they always would, and not get sicker as we have been seeing happen over these last weeks," Horak said.
Patients will be tested for COVID-19 prior to their scheduled procedures. A negative test result is just one of the requirements for proceeding with a surgery. If patients with COVID symptoms or who have tested positive for COVID require emergency surgical services, a process to determine when and if the surgery can be safely performed will be followed and a COVID specialty area has been designated in a portion of the Fergus Falls hospital to allow Elbow Lake, Morris and the areas outside the specialty unit to remain COVID-managed as much as possible.
"Safety has always been and continues to be our highest priority. We are ready to continue serving all the health care needs of our communities and we will utilize our expertise in dealing with infectious diseases to create the safest possible experience for all of our patients," Overgaard said. He pointed to innovative models the organization has created to care for patients in other settings, such as the laboratory tents placed in parking lots and the use of outreach clinics for some specialty services like dermatology and orthopedics. Many other measures have been implemented for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic at the LRH and PRHHS locations including:
- Increased lab testing capabilities, including drive-up testing
- Real-time tracking of personal protective equipment (PPE) and local partnerships to meet PPE shortages such as surgical gowns, face shields and hand sanitizer
- Virtual appointments to offer visits with nearly all care providers on a tablet, phone or computer
- The creation of a respiratory assessment clinic in Fergus Falls, Morris and Elbow Lake, as well as creating separation in emergency departments and other units to protect patients.
- Restriction of all visitors
- Screening of all patients, vendors, couriers, delivery-persons before they enter any facility
- Social distancing practices in all lobbies, including Plexiglas shields between check-in staff and patients
- Everyone wears a mask:
- patient-facing staff wears a mask and face shield
- non patient-facing staff and all patients are provided with cloth masks
- Screening of all employees, including temperature checks, before each work shift
- Enhancement of already rigorous cleaning practices and techniques
The teams at LRH and PRHHS are ready to safely help people with their healthcare needs during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, whether in the Emergency Room, Delivery Room, Clinic settings or on a virtual visit. Patients are encouraged to call the clinic or hospital for guidance about navigating the best options for their current health care needs. "Whatever you do, please don't ignore your health needs out of unfounded fear," Overgaard urged.
About the Lake Region Healthcare Enterprise
The Lake Region Healthcare enterprise is comprised of Lake Region Healthcare, an independent community-governed non-profit headquartered in Fergus Falls, the Mill Street Residence Assisted Living Facility in Fergus Falls, and the non-profit critical access hospital, Prairie Ridge Hospital and Health Services headquartered in Elbow Lake. With over 85 medical staff and over 1,000 employees, we are dedicated to serving the healthcare needs of our communities with values of Excellence, Person-Centered, Collaboration, Stewardship, Integrity, Respect and Innovation. Together we bring specialty and sub-specialty services to patients at hospital locations in Fergus Falls and Elbow Lake and at clinics in Ashby, Barnesville, Battle Lake, Evansville, Herman, Hoffman, and Morris, MN. For more information visit: www.lrhc.org, www.prairiehealth.org or www.millstreet.lrhc.org