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CFVH keeps up with demand

Thursday, April 30, 2020

By Annie Wooden, The Sanders County Ledger, 4/30/20

Though Sanders County hasn’t had a confirmed case of the coronavirus, life at Clark Fork Valley Hospital (CFVH) in Plains is anything but normal as administrators and staff continue to monitor the disease spread.

“I don’t think people always recognize how tremendous the Clark Fork Valley Hospital staff is,” hospital CEO Dr. Greg Hanson said Monday. “There is a lot of stress because of procedure changes. The level of intensity and fear from the community has been a lot to handle.” Even so, Hanson said they have had no problem keeping the hospital at full staff. He also noted that “the housekeeping staff has really stepped up to the plate” in order to keep the hospital clean as restrictions for care and social distancing were put in place last month by Gov. Steve Bullock.

“The pace has slowed and we’ve accomplished the task to flatten the curve,” Hanson said, noting that the number of people recovered in the state is going up faster than the number of people infected with COVID-19.

Dr. Hanson explained that the pace of the coronavirus spread has slowed, and the hospital is prepared in case the state sees another bump in cases as the governor’s restrictions are eased in phases. CFVH continues to practice social distancing and visitation is restricted in both the hospital and at the assisted living center. “The safety of our staff and patients is very important,” Hanson said, noting that CFVH is still determining how they will again start performing elective procedures. “We’re going to ask people to quarantine for a week before any procedure,” he added, and patients coming in for procedures will be screened right up until their surgery.

Hanson expressed that CFVH is comfortable with the amount of protective equipment they have on hand in the event that restrictions continue or there is a surge in cases. He also said that he suspects there will be long-term implications on training and also what hospitals are expected to have on their shelves. “Our whole supply chain is going to have to adapt,” even when the virus threat is over.

The number of people admitted to the hospital has been down, Hanson said, adding that they have seen fewer patients for common colds and flu symptoms. He attributes that to social distancing measures. “Social distancing is what we practice in the first place in Montana. It’s no wonder it spreads like crazy in places like New York,” he said.

So how is coronavirus different from the flu or other illnesses? Dr. Hanson explained the difference is that the coronavirus is so new and how easily it passes from one person to another. He pointed out how rapid and strong the virus is and its ability to impact communities. He stated that because there is no vaccine and there have been no immunizations, it’s hard to tell what the immunity of people who contract the virus will be.

CFVH has been utilizing a nurse call line and telehealth technology for virtual appointments. Hanson said he expects that the technology used during the current emergency will drive the way patients and physicians and patients interact in the future. “I see tremendous opportunities in the future, and this is going to propel adoption of that technology.” He added that how the technology is used in the future depends on changes in regulations.

As of Monday, the hospital had tested 49 people for coronavirus. While three of those tests were still pending, the remaining 46 came back negative. Dr. Hanson noted that not all of the people who called or had office visits with symptoms of the virus were tested. He said that those with mild symptoms may not have been tested but were recommended to self-isolate. “We haven’t been able to test everybody.”

The hospital’s respiratory illness clinic, which was set up to help isolate those with potential coronavirus symptoms, has seen 45 patients so far this month. Hanson said clinics in Thompson Falls and Hot Springs have seen additional patients. The clinics are seeing patients with respiratory symptoms at special times in order to be able to heavily clean and sanitize offices. Hanson noted that continuing the clinic, the nurse help line and the telehealth visits is something CFVH staff will address as needs change.

Dr. Hanson on Monday also addressed the availability of at-home tests for coronavirus. He warned of the possibility of false positives and false negatives from tests, and said people need to consider whether or not they want to spend the money if at-home tests become available.

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