Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Officials say Influx of patients still possible, stress urgency of providing continuing medical services
[Fergus Falls, MN and Elbow Lake, MN] Lake Region Healthcare (LRH) and Prairie Ridge Hospital & Health Services (PRHHS) today outlined their current strategy for COVID-19 response while still meeting the medical needs of the community over the next several months.
“By all accounts, the COVID horizon appears as though it will be a sustained event likely to extend over the next six months or so,” said LRH interim CEO, Kent Mattson. He said like many other hospitals and health systems across the state, they are using a model from Qventus as a tool for scenario planning. While models are only as good as the limited data available to input, Mattson says it does provide helpful information to allow for scenario planning with localized information on any variables such as bed capacity and staffing plans.
“What we’d like to make clear though, is that the scenarios that come out of the modeling are really only estimates,” Mattson said. “We recognize that all forecasting is imperfect and that models change and the data changes as it is revised to reflect evolving conditions in the population. But the projections can be useful to create best- and worst-case scenarios to assist us with planning,” he added.
Surge Plans Have Been Develop Based on Modeling Forecasts
Mattson said that current modeling scenarios show a likelihood for a sustained rise in COVID cases is expected to last at least six months, with a period of about two months of peak-level intensity sometime in mid-summer. During that peak period, the hospitals in Fergus Falls and Elbow Lake will work together to care for both COVID and non-COVID patients. “We have reorganized our hospital space to ensure we can properly isolate persons with and without the infection to limit the chances it will spread within our walls,” according to Dr. Josh Overgaard, Internal Medicine physician and Chief of Staff. “ We plan to use a portion of our Fergus Falls hospital as a COVID-specialty wing, still preserving the bulk of the facility for regular care for patients without COVID, while the hospital in Elbow Lake would be preserved as a COVID-managed space for performing urgent surgeries and post-operative care,” he added. "This will help ensure we will be able to continue providing safe obstetrical care in Labor and Delivery, safe inpatient Behavioral Health, and cancer care at the Cancer Center,” Overgaard said.
Mattson added that some scenarios indicate there could be more COVID patients in a surge than would be possible or prudent to care for locally. “We have developed a plan to handle a certain load and use our assets across all of our locations by enhancing our capacities to take care of as many patients locally as we can without overtaxing our people, places or things. But when we hit the limit, if we do, then we will rely on transfers to our regional partners who have greater capacity. That’s similar to the way we already transition patients to locations like Sanford in Fargo or CentraCare in St. Cloud when they need advanced specialty care,” he said.
Mattson went on to say social distancing orders from the Governor have helped hospitals and health systems buy time to prepare and the models show that social distancing is flattening the curve. “We hope that continued efforts by the public to continue these practices will get us to the point where we will have enough spaces, staff and supplies to withstand a COVID-19 surge or outbreak,” Mattson said.
Drive-Up Laboratory Tents and Many Clinic Services to Restart This Week
Equally important to planning for a potential rise in COVID-19 patients are plans to bring back as many medical services, including elective surgeries and others, as quickly and safely as possible the two said. “We are really concerned with the trend we are seeing of people coming into the Clinic or the Emergency Department with more advanced illness than they normally would. It’s apparent that people are delaying care or not following their treatment plan as they normally would because of fear or misinformation,” Overgaard said.
One of the problems is a perception that services are not available according to Overgaard. Some of the confusion might be related to the postponement of elective surgeries, which both Mattson and Overgaard said is a priority to bring back as soon as safely possible.
“In consultation with our own Surgeons, Medical Providers and Administration, the decision was made back in March to postpone the vast majority of elective patient procedures in anticipation of a greater strain on staffing, space, equipment and other resources. We believe that was the right decision based on the information we had at the time,” Overgaard said. “The Governor subsequently issued an Executive Order reaffirming the call we made. But now as predictions are changing about how the outbreak is likely to play out, we are adjusting our approach to ensure we can address the medical needs of people who are waiting for surgical interventions,” he added.
Mattson said they have already begun to re-start many of the services that were scaled back earlier as protocols and spaces are analyzed to ensure a safe return to service. “A group of over 25 practitioners and support staff from across the enterprise are working on exploring innovations and opportunities to safely restart certain outpatient and ambulatory direct patient services for non-COVID care, in addition to the virtual appointments we have been offering as an alternative to in-person visits,” Mattson said. With a focus on safety and changes in operations to allow for diligent social distancing, this week several service re-starts are happening, he added. By spreading out where we offer services to more locations, we can accommodate further social and physical distancing and increase the safety for patients and staff. Some of the service re-starts happening in expanded locations this week include:
- Drive Up Laboratory Services will begin at the Main Clinic and Cancer Center in Fergus Falls starting Wednesday, April 22nd. Large tents for these services have been set up in the parking lots and hours for the first week will be 7:30 -11am. Hours will be reviewed & adjusted based on demand. Patients will be directed by their provider or nurse how to access the drive-up lab services.
- The Ashby Clinic reopened for Primary Care in-person and virtual appointments with Dr. Erin Peterson on Mondays & Fridays as of April 20th.
- The Battle Lake Clinic reopened for Primary Care in-person appointments with Sheryl Olson - ANP, Kiana Deal - PA, and Alena Deutschlander - FNP, daily from 8am to 5pm starting on April 21st.
- Mary Bressler - FNP,DCNP, will offer scheduled dermatology appointments at the Walk-In Clinic during early morning hours before the Walk-In Clinic opens beginning on April 23rd. Appointments with Bressler will be available Tuesday through Friday from 7a-11a and can be made by calling 218.739.2221.
- In addition to continued service at the Fergus Falls Main Clinic, Orthopedic and Podiatry services will expand to offer appointments at the Walk-In and Battle Lake clinic spaces later this week. Dr. Chris Rott and Aaron Lindstrom, NP will be available in Battle Lake on Wednesdays & Thursdays while Dr. Jason Glynn, Kory Nordick - PA, and Keon Griffie - NP, will be available Tuesday through Friday from 7-11am at the Walk-In Clinic in Fergus Falls. Appointments for all locations can be made by calling 218.739.2221.
- The Prairie Ridge Hoffman Clinic has reopened on Tuesdays to offer injections, lab draws, and immunizations only.
Mattson said similar arrangements will continue to develop over the coming days for other services as well. In addition, at all LRH and PRHHS locations, in-person visits are provided as needed, and virtual appointments and phone visits are available with a vast majority of providers. Nurses are taking calls to help patients determine which type of visit should be scheduled to best fit a patient’s need. “Anyone experiencing COVID related or respiratory symptoms should always call us first to talk to a nurse,” Overgaard said.
As to fears about the safety of visiting the medical facilities, Overgaard said getting medical care and prescriptions is included in the stay-at-home order exceptions because it is essential to maintain good health during the pandemic. “We want to assure the public that we are doing everything possible to ensure our facilities, including our Emergency Departments, are safe. By screening all staff and patients, limiting the number of patients in waiting areas, utilizing alternate clinic sites and tents for some services, and requiring everyone in our facilities to wear masks, our healthcare locations are, in all likelihood, a much safer atmosphere than you’ll find in the grocery or hardware store,” he said.
“Our focus has been, from the big picture, that this COVID crisis is simply a moment in time that has caused us to rapidly shift our focus and resources, and adapt and adjust to a new healthcare event. I think we have responded to it really well. It’s just what we do,” Mattson said. “We will continue our path of preparing and planning with a best practice approach and be steady,” he added. “We will focus on COVID-19 but we will not lose our focus on the core mission of caring for all health care needs in the communities we serve,” Mattson concluded.
More COVID-19 Resources
- Patients with questions or concerns about an upcoming appointment should call their local clinic. Phone numbers for all LRH and PRHHS locations are available at: https://www.lrhc.org/contact-us/ and https://www.prairiehealth.org/contact-us/.
- Questions about COVID-19 can be addressed by the MN Department of Health Hotline: 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903.
- Patients who are experiencing symptoms should call their local provider’s office to be screened and receive further instruction about home management strategies, or whether they should seek further testing or treatment.
- Visit lrhc.org/covid19 for the latest local updates.
About Lake Region Healthcare
Lake Region Healthcare is living out its vision to be Minnesota's preeminent regional healthcare partner. With over 85 medical staff and over 900 employees, its team is dedicated to serving its patients and community with integrity, teamwork, compassion and excellence. For more information about Lake Region Healthcare, visit www.lrhc.org.
About Prairie Ridge Hospital & Health Services
Prairie Ridge Hospital and Health Services is a private, non-profit health care organization providing clinical and hospital services in several small rural communities. Bringing specialty and sub-specialty physicians to patients through a vision to lead collaborative efforts that improve the lives of the people they serve by providing quality healthcare and outstanding customer service. More info at www.prairiehealth.org.
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