By Jason Huikko, M.D.

Stevens Community Medical Center Family Medicine Physician and Chief of Staff

I would like to take a few moments to address the coronavirus pandemic. As many of you may have already noticed there have been significant changes to how we function at Stevens Community Medical Center in recent weeks. We took action to stop elective surgeries and procedures in order to reduce our usage of much-needed supplies such as masks and gowns. This action has been ordered statewide by the governor. We have also set up phone screening and screening of all people at the entry of the SCMC for respiratory symptoms that could be present in an individual infected with coronavirus. For people that have symptoms such as fever, sore throat, shortness of breath and cough that do require evaluation we have set up an alternative screening site located at the emergency department garage area in order to reduce the chance that an individual infected with coronavirus would enter the facility. This action also helps us to preserve supplies such as masks which would need to be placed on any patient entering the building with these symptoms. We have also reduced the number of visitors allowed into the hospital for hospitalized patients in order to reduce chances of spread of the coronavirus. Many of you may have questions on whether or not you should come into the clinic for scheduled appointments. While the coronavirus is certainly the #1 concern for the health community both nationally and globally, we also have to remember that other diseases will continue and we cannot ignore our routine medical care and screenings. For instance, we do not want to have children falling behind on immunizations that they would normally receive at routine well-child visits or to stop screenings that do not use important medical care at this time. I do however ask that if you have any respiratory illness that you reschedule your appointment and come in when you are feeling well. We will also be having our primary care practices work with their patients to ensure that they have enough medications and delay routine follow-ups if it is deemed safe by the provider. If you have any uncertainty about whether or not you should come into the clinic I encourage you to reach out to your primary care providers by telephone or MyChart and those practices can help determine the best course of action. From what I have observed recently, I feel that our community has made great efforts in preventing the spread of coronavirus. I also know that this community wants to help in any way possible. At this time, for most people, the most helpful thing you can do is to continue social distancing, wash your hands and avoid touching your face. Keep yourself as healthy as possible through eating healthy, regular physical activity, and getting adequate sleep. We do know that COVID-19 has greater effect on the elderly and people with certain pre-existing conditions, however it does affect people of all ages so these efforts need to be practiced by everyone. I want to reassure you that this medical pandemic will pass and the actions we take now as a community will go a long way to determine the length and severity of the pandemic. We at SCMC continue to work on a daily basis to ensure that we are as prepared as possible if the pandemic severely affects our community. We also look forward to a  time in the future when we can return to more normal operations. I again want to thank the community for all the efforts that have been put in so far and the efforts that are to come.

Glacial Ridge Health System has been practicing and preparing for this type of healthcare emergency for years. Not specifically for the COVID-19 pandemic, but for various types of accidents, diseases, or unexpected emergencies. They have systems in place to care for patients who may exhibit signs of the coronavirus, as well as for those who have everyday healthcare concerns.

Kirk Stensrud, CEO of Glacial Ridge; Greg Meyers, Emergency Services Manager; and Jeanette Pasche, RN, Infection Control and Employee Health, are just a few of the staff and healthcare team members on Glacial Ridge’s Hospital Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that started planning for this a few weeks ago. The COVID-19 EOC team has been meeting daily to prepare for COVID-19 in our community. They also talk weekly with public health and law enforcement and remain in constant contact with Minnesota Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and local and regional healthcare centers. 

Several medical personnel and staff at Glacial Ridge also participate in training drills on a regular basis with the regional and state Emergency Operations Center. As part of the EOC training, GRHS staff practice and prepare—working from a predetermined plan that they must revise on the fly, drawing from their training and experience, according to the unique circumstances each training situation calls for.

“The EOC training is very well-coordinated—everyone in the incident command structure has a role and they all know what to do,” said Stensrud. “During the training, there are several scenarios. To make it even more challenging, the director of the disaster training drill from the state will inject an unknown twist, so we need to develop a new plan for the new situation.”

There are many protocols in place at Glacial Ridge to keep community members and healthcare staff safe—some seen, some unseen—while also providing care for those who may need to be screened for COVID-19. 

Glacial Ridge has signs at all public entrances to the hospital and three clinics directing people to stop. The sign says if they have a fever, cough, respiratory illness or other respiratory symptom, they are not to enter the clinics or the ER. They are directed to call (320) 334-5481 first, to be screened and get further instructions. 

The phone number provided is only to be used by patients with those specific symptoms. There are slips of paper with the phone number attached to the signs, so people can take one and make the call from their car or after returning home. After the screening call by a GRHS RN – using current MDH guidelines for testing – the patient is instructed how to proceed for testing at GRHS or whether to self-quarantine at home. 

Other new procedures

Other new measures taken by Glacial Ridge to maintain a safe and sterile environment at the hospital and clinics are:

•A no-visitor policy in the hospital.

•New plexiglass shields for the reception desks.

•Closing the public coffee and snack counters.

•Separate waiting areas and examination rooms for those who are masked or unmasked. 

•Lab and x-ray waiting areas are also separated into masked/unmasked areas.

•Those with potential COVID-19 are not allowed in any waiting areas, but are cared for and tested separately in a designated place with healthcare workers dressed in full personal protective equipment (PPE).

“While there are currently no known cases in our county, we are well-stocked with PPE, masks, gowns, eye protection, and face shields to safely care for our community during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Meyers. “Our staff has been doing an amazing job utilizing the personal protective equipment and conserving it as recommended by the CDC guidelines.”

In addition to their existing hand-held, electrostatic, virus-killing equipment, Glacial Ridge had two more loaned to them from the Minnewaska Area School District since schools are closed. Visualize the disinfecting mist bonded to static electricity – it can infiltrate crevices, get in, around, and under, all surfaces easier and quicker than regular disinfectant methods. This is completed daily at the hospital, all three clinics, Glenwood Family Eye Center, and Ridgewood Villa. This generous sharing of resources by the school district, has made the logistics of covering these locations much more manageable. Additionally, the electrostatic equipment is used to disinfect Glacial Ridge’s six ambulances and is available for local law enforcement.

“We want people to take this seriously—stay home, wash your hands well, avoid groups larger than 10, stay six feet away from others if you must go in public places,” said Pasche. “Above all, we need all age groups, even the teenagers and twenty-somethings to take this seriously. Anyone can catch it, but if everyone takes it seriously, lives will be saved. We’re in this together. Let’s do this right.”

To learn more about COVID-19, visit cdc.gov or Glacial Ridge Health System at www.glacialridge.org. If you have possible symptoms of COVID-19 and would like to talk to an RN at GRHS for screening, please call (320) 334-5481.