Editor's note: This story is part of the 2021 "Essential to Jamestown" special edition of The Jamestown Sun. The annual Progress Edition features stories on essential workers, agencies and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
The clinic manager for Essentia Health-Jamestown Clinic said staff morale hasn’t been an issue during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s different from a clinic setting to a hospital setting,” said Laura Hovland. “Yes, we get the sick coming in but we don’t get the very sick. We don’t get the ones that are dying in hospitals - so in the clinic setting, it’s more of a positive because we’re seeing them and getting them better. They come to us and they are thanking us for giving them vaccine and giving them hope that the future will get back to normal again.”
The clinic worked to deliver care safely during the pandemic.
“In the beginning, one of the first thoughts was what’s the safest thing for our patients?” said Hovland. “What can we do to protect them? What can we do to protect our staff.”
The first step was not seeing all of its patients in person, doing virtual visits in order to provide care but not expose them by coming to the clinic, she said.
“As time went on, when we started having patients come back to our clinic, when we felt that it was safe again, then we did the masks, we did the screening, we did the temp check, we washed our hands, we made sure we that wore our PPE which is mask and goggles, and we made sure the patients wore masks,” Hovland said.
Dr. Tanya Diegel, Primary Care Division chair – North Dakota, said some people did delay getting care during the pandemic.
“I would say for the first six months we did see complications related to delayed patient care as our patients were choosing to stay home also with their own health concerns related to exposures in the community,” she said.
She said during the last three to four months, Essentia patients have been more comfortable receiving care in a face-to-face setting.
“I think one of our challenges early on was technology, especially in the communities that we serve,” Diegel said. “We do not all have high-speed internet and those sorts of luxuries to facilitate virtual appointments which is why we did do a lot of telephone care initially to just check in on people and make sure that it was as safe as we could determine for them to remain in their homes.”
Patients, when they called seeking care, were given choices on how to get that care, Diegel said - face-to-face, video appointment or by phone. Some appointments that did not require a lot of “hands-on” care could be done over the phone, she noted.
“If patients are monitoring things at home, whether it’s blood pressures or blood sugars we could check in with them, follow up on those things with them and make recommendations for medication changes over the phone,” she said.
Communication with Essentia staff has also been key during the pandemic.
“Early on I think our staff was no different than the general public,” Diegel said. “And we did have initial concerns but as we learned more, as we had increasing communication with the Department of Health in both … with the state of North Dakota as well as the state of Minnesota as well as following CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines it became our new norm, if you will. We’ve definitely been able to see the value of PPE in both masking and eyewear with known exposures we’ve had to coronavirus and yet our staff has remained safe so that was very promising and reassuring to the staff.”
“I think staff has been very positive through it,” said Lisa Clemens, nursing supervisor and diabetic educator. “We’ve kept them educated … as long as they know the why behind it, staff has remained positive.”
Hovland said staff following what leaders are doing is also important.
“I think Essentia has really stepped up just to make sure that we’re keeping everybody as safe as we can,” she said. “Some people think even we go overboard but other patients come in and say, ‘you know what, I feel so comfortable.’”
Hovland noted no staff have been sick related to coronavirus and have been following guidelines.
“We just did our normal thing,” she said.
There was no big increase of patients coming in with COVID-19, Hovland said. Diegel noted that the clinic saw patients with complaints that may have been COVID-19, influenza “or our usual respiratory pathogens,” but the clinic followed safe standard workflows to keep everyone safe.
“We did adjust some of our workflows,” Diegel said, with screenings, social distancing in the waiting room and moving people efficiently so they aren’t gathering in common areas.
Diegel is not surprised about variants of coronavirus occurring.
“I think that’s in line with how viruses operate,” she said. “We have influenza strains everywhere which is why we require a different influenza vaccine every year. I think we stick to doing the right things right including our PPE, hand washing and it’ll play out.”
She said she would not be surprised if there is an annual COVID vaccine like an annual influenza vaccine.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing and not let our guard down,” Hovland said. “We have to be smart when we’re out in the public. And if you’re not feeling good, stay at home.”
It’s the same stuff they preach about influenza, she noted.
“We’re all just grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve patients and at whatever format they feel safe in,” Diegel said. “We are entirely confident in our ability to provide safe face-to-face care and we encourage patients not to delay any of their health care needs - oh, and get the shot.”