“When you hear people say this is just like a bad flu, that is not true,” said Dr. Tom Bracken, Infection Prevention Medical Director for Mille Lacs Health System, about the current COVID-19 pandemic. “People are using number of deaths as a comparison, yet we already have exceeded the number of deaths we see in an entire flu season in just a few months. This is different in so many ways. Flu doesn’t behave like this virus does, and it doesn’t overwhelm systems like this does. It’s a hundred times more dangerous. And when we study the influenza virus, we have years to put together data and study it. The scientific and medical community have been trying to do this in three months.”
Bracken noted that central Minnesota has had the good fortune to have the time to prepare and to delay the surge because of stay-at-home measures. Though there have been no cases diagnosed at MLHS, “we know we will see cases, and we’re preparing every day for that.”
Vicki Engmark, Infection Preventionist at MLHS, said, “We use predictive models based on an algorithm of what’s around us, and that takes into account a number of variables. The models are saying that end of April, early May, we will have patients presenting with coronavirus.” But Engmark stresses that MLHS is not functioning alone. MLHS is part of the Central Minnesota Disaster Preparedness Coalition which has a structured tier plan. The health system is working alongside other facilities in the region with urgency and unity to make sure systems and processes are in place to partner in the response.
The MLHS Incident Command Emergency Response Team has been making sure all processes tied to the tier plan are in place. Dr. Arden Virnig, MLHS Emergency Department Medical Director, has been running scenario drills with staff.
As of Monday, April 27, 48 tests have been done at MLHS, all negative, with results pending on one. Testing is only being done in Onamia, and patients should call the MLHS hotline at (320) 532-2989 first if they are concerned about symptoms.
The no visitor restriction policy for hospital, nursing home and Lake Song Assisted Living is still in place. However, Bracken said if someone is actively dying, two individuals only who are registered to visit can be with the patient, once a day, individually. “We have to take precautions at this time, but we also want to be compassionate about those who are leaving this world.” (This does not apply to COVID-19 patients.)
All employees are screened and masked before they go to their workstations. And any person entering the facility, for any reason at all, is screened and masked. Anyone not wanting to comply is asked to leave. “We are implementing this regardless of whether someone has symptoms or not,” said Kim Kucera, MLHS COO and Incident Commander. “This includes vendors and people accompanying a patient. People have to remember that you can have COVID-19 and not know it, so the mask is essentially protecting others. It’s called source control and we take that seriously.” (Cloth masks are used with people who are not ill. They are deposited in a receptacle for washing when the person leaves, to be reused after they are disinfected.)
During this time, the medical staff at MLHS wants to remind patients that sickness, injury, health concerns, immunizations, and needed follow-ups are still essential parts of ongoing care delivery, and these types of appointments should not be put off. Patients can come in for appointments or schedule a TeleHealth visit with a provider. At this time, elective surgeries and specialist visits are suspended. Emergency surgery is still available.