On Sunday, Otter Tail County received notice of its second confirmed positive case of COVID-19. Not all cases of COVID-19 are tested, so it is not representative of the total number of people in Otter Tail County who have or had COVID-19.
Given the anticipated surge of COVID-19 cases, Otter Tail County Commissioners met with regional and state healthcare partners last week to learn more about their medical response plans. Kent Mattson, Lake Region Healthcare’s Interim CEO, Chuck Hofius, Perham Health’s CEO, along with Karen Moser, a Minnesota Public Health (MDH) Preparedness Consultant, joined the closed session meeting to discuss state and regional medical response plans.
Hofius began by describing a coordinated state-wide planning effort. All Minnesota hospitals and MDH are working closely to prepare for the surge in patients with COVID-19 that is expected to happen in the next several weeks. According to Hofius, hospitals across the state with Intensive Care Units (ICU) have been instructed to order surge capacity supplies such as beds and must report their surge capacities to the state. Perham Health is a 25-bed critical access hospital, but typically only staffed for a maximum of 18 patients. “We’ve been tasked by the State to not only get to our full capacity of 25 beds, but to figure out how we can go beyond that number,” said Hofius. “Converting other spaces – such as infusion therapy, same day surgery, and the sleep study center – gives Perham Health capacity for 33 beds.”
Mattson reiterated the extensive state-wide planning effort that is underway with MDH and the West Central Healthcare Preparedness Coalition. “As we hear what MDH is forecasting, we need to prepare for a high volume of COVID-19 patients, many of whom will be very sick. Our population is generally more aged, so we may see different impacts than metro areas,” said Mattson. Area healthcare organizations have begun patient capacity planning to clarify where patients are going to go – both locally and regionally. “We are doing everything we can to increase capacity within our walls. However, we are also working closely with our affiliate Prairie Ridge in Elbow Lake and Morris as well as Stevens Community Medical Center (SCMC) in Morris.”
According to Mattson, under the state’s surge modeling and Lake Region’s own surge modeling, there is not local capacity to care for all the patients that are forecasted to need hospitalization. “We have been communicating diligently with Sanford and Essentia about increasing patient capacity. However, even then, there will not be adequate capacity.” The state is working with local units of government to create additional capacity. According to Karen Moser with MDH, the state is divided into eight regions when emergent situations arise. “The charge we were given by the Governor’s Office and State Emergency Operations Center was to look for three Alternate Care Site possibilities in the region.” Vacated hospitals, nursing homes, dormitories and hotels are examples of potential Alternative Care Sites.
Hofius reminded commissioners that 80% of individuals who test positive for COVID-19 do not need hospitalization. Healthcare providers are therefore focusing preparations on the 20% who will require hospitalization. Regional healthcare providers are moving ahead with plans to procure equipment, staff and volunteers. Mattson explained that hospitals are recruiting former hospital staff, preparing units of the hospitals for COVID-19 only patients and working with partners to secure transportation of patients to other locations for care. Both Mattson and Hofius emphasized that taking care of healthcare workers is a priority in this pandemic.
According to Mattson, we must do more to level out the curves or our healthcare systems risk being overrun based on current forecasts, which estimates that tend to evolve and change. All participants at the meeting urged the public to adhere to the Governor’s stay-at-home order and help flatten the curve. These actions include:
- Wash your hands
- Don’t touch your face
- Stay home if you’re sick
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces
- Stay at home
- Practice social distancing when you must go out
For COVID-19 health-related questions the public can call the MDH COVID-19 Hotline at 1-800-657-3903. The hotline is available 7 days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Otter Tail County Public Health is available to answer general questions regarding COVID-19 at 218-998-8320 or Toll Free 888-349-2581, Monday to Friday from 8:00-4:30.
For business and development resources please call Amy Baldwin, Community Development Agency Director at 218-998-8050 or the Small Business Administration at 1-800-659-2955.
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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.
Lake Region Healthcare Fergus Falls Clinic: 218-739-2221
Lake Region Healthcare Fergus Falls Hospital (24 hours): 218-736-8000
Prairie Ridge Hospital & Health Service Elbow Lake Clinic: 218-685-7300
Prairie Ridge Hospital & Health Services Morris Clinic: 320-589-4008
Perham Health (24 hours): (218) 347-4500
Perham Health Clinic: (218) 347-1200
Perham Health New York Mills Clinic: (218) 385-1800
Perham Health Ottertail Clinic: (218) 367-6111