By Laurie Welch - MAGICVALLEY.COM
BURLEY — The three smaller hospitals across the Magic Valley have been not as hard hit as St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, but they are still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hospital officials say delays in getting test results back, lack of supplies and patients who do not feel well but don’t meet the criteria for testing are causing some frustration — but the public’s efforts to maintain social distances seem to be paying off.
“Testing has been one of our biggest frustrations due to the limited supply of collection medium available and the testing result turn-around times,” said Minidoka Memorial Hospital CEO Tom Murphy.
The testing result times have improved, he said, but it is still taking from 48 to 72 hours to get results back.
“The only frustration we have seen is patients who are not well, want to be tested, but do not meet the public health criteria to be tested, said Shellie Amundson, spokeswoman for North Canyon Medical Center.
“Some of the patients we have seen did not meet the criteria and returned home to self-care with instructions on self-isolating and how to prevent the spread of others,” she said. Others who met test criteria were swabbed but were still well enough to return home.
Hospital spokeswoman Stephanie Curtis said Cassia Regional Hospital has a drive-up testing center in the parking lot but physician orders are needed. People in the community should call or visit their primary care doctor or call the Intermountain Healthcare COVID-19 hotline at 844-442-5224 for an appointment for a drive-up test.
Caring for COVID-19 patients
Amundson said the North Canyon hospital has received between two to four patients with “severe enough symptoms” to be hospitalized.
Minidoka Memorial Hospital Spokeswoman Kim Vega said the hospital has cared for a small number of COVID-19 patients. All confirmed or suspected patients with the virus are isolated.
“We feel that it is important for us to take these patients and free up bed space at larger facilities to allow them to take on more critical cases,” Vega said.
If a patient is sick enough to need hospitalization but does not need ventilator support, North Canyon can care for them in a reverse isolation room,” Amundson said.
“If a patient is critical, or rapidly declines and needs ventilation support, they would be shipped to Twin Falls or Boise. We do not have ICU beds at North Canyon,” she said.
Curtis declined to comment on the numbers of patients at Cassia Regional Hospital with the virus.
Coping in crisis
Staff at all three small hospitals are coping well so far, officials said.
“We have not yet been hit hard and are grateful to have had the extra time to see what changes were necessary in other facilities, learn from their experiences and have the time to make any changes at North Canyon before the anticipated wave of patients would arrive. Our hope is that the social distancing has been effective and we will not see a significant increase in our area,” Amundson said.
Vega said physicians, nurses, aids, EMTs and other clinical professionals, like lab and radiology, have “stepped up like heroes,” to care for people.
Curtis said the community has extended many positive notes to Cassia Regional Hospital “that are uplifting our staff.” Last week, caregivers were surprised to find an encouraging sign on the lawn when they came to work.
Medical supply availability
Amundson said not having needed supplies readily available has also been a problem at North Canyon.
“Our team has come together to pull what supplies we can and be as prepared as possible with what we have on hand and with the limited shipments due to arrive in the coming weeks,” she said. “Our primary concern today is the lack of masks for our staff. As recommended by the CDC last week, anyone in public should wear a mask at all times, this includes all staff in the building. With masks in short supply, we are reserving our surgical masks and N95 for direct patient care with suspected patients. This does not leave enough masks for the rest of the staff, so we have engaged several church groups in Gooding County to make masks for the hospital staff, following recommended CDC guidelines.”
Curtis said Cassia Regional Hospital has “all of the important supplies that are needed to help our community, which is one of the advantages of being part of a health care system.”
Vega said community members have helped to make masks and other personal protective equipment, which “has increased our arsenal of available supplies.
“Our community is incredibly innovative and helpful. We are humbled by the support we have received,” she said.
Stay the course
Vega said hospital officials ask people in the community to continue to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and governor’s guidelines to social distance and stay at home.
“The isolation order is indeed working and I believe our community is seeing the benefits from the home isolation order with a low number of confirmed cases,” Vegas said. “We encourage the community to hang in there even as the weather begins to get nice and please stay home and go out when it is necessary.”