Staff mitigate storm and smoke

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On Memorial Day, Tri-County Health Care staff responded to a fire at a nearby irrigation facility and severe weather. Staff was warned of the fire and the possibility of chemical gas approaching the hospital. Additionally, a storm producing high winds and the possibility of tornados had the potential to affect the City of Wadena. Staff members mitigate situations like this in a specific way, and Tri-County staff regularly participate in scenarios like this one.

Taking appropriate action

EMS staff departed to assist with the nearby fire. Initially, they began fire rehab, a procedure where EMS supports firefighters by providing first aid, hydration, and a cool place to recover. The storm hit, which prompted EMS staff to take cover. At the Wadena Hospital, staff initiated incident command operations. Members of the administration, EMS, and medical staff evacuated patients to safe areas within the facility. Tri-County completed this task without issue.

Due to the threat of chemical gas entering the facility, maintenance and the engineer on call quickly disabled the ventilation system to stop the potential spread of gas. This process was completed without incident, and all observations indicate that chemical-laced gas did not enter the facility.

The scope of a crisis

“You couldn’t write a scenario like this,” remarked Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Krueger. Krueger is responsible for the mobilization of incident command at Tri-County Health Care. He’s also responsible for training staff to handle scenarios like severe weather and structure fires. Leading up to the storm, Krueger provided detailed information on its movement. His team was instrumental in facilitating evacuation during the crisis.

“Everyone did a fantastic job and everything went according to plan even with the mounting problems in the region” – Thomas Krueger.

After the storm passed, staff received an all-clear message. Evacuation orders lifted, and patients returned to their rooms. Once the threat of gas passed, the ventilation system reactivated, and normal operations resumed. Staff mitigate all-hazards scenarios based on many factors, many of which were present in this crisis. Please visit TCHC.org and our social media accounts for regular updates.


COVID-19 endemic: hoping for change

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Tri-County Health Care has gone through some noticeable changes over the past weeks. Some plexiglass dividers have come down, visitors and guests have been invited back into the hospital setting, everything seems to be slowly returning to normal. Are we entering the COVID-19 endemic phase?

As the winter cold has left us, so has COVID-19 for the most part. According to the Centers for Disease Control, our area and the entire nation have seen a steady decline of COVID-19. On February 3, the CDC data tracker listed 351,465 new cases of COVID-19 in the United States. Less than two months later, that number has dropped to 9,011 new cases on March 20. Also, on February 3, the CDC data tracker showed 2,693 deaths, but on March 20, that number plummeted to 77 new deaths. At least for now, we are in a far better place going into spring.

COVID-19 Endemic

The drop in community prevalence has many throwing their masks away and returning to bars, concerts, and shopping centers. The decline has many experts speculating if the spread of omicron was the precursor to an endemic phase of the virus. An endemic phase would imply that COVID-19 is still present but localized to certain areas. Health organizations have not officially announced a transition to an endemic phase of the virus. People should still be taking precautions like avoiding crowds and social distancing.

The calm after the storm

We all want the pandemic to end, but we shouldn’t drop our guard just yet. Of course, breathe a sigh of relief. It was a hard winter fraught with illness and death. We all deserve some time to relax and hope for a better future, but we have to be steadfast in our mitigation to get there.

According to statistics gathered by the Joint Commission, on a county level, we have seen a slight increase in community spread. This could only be the natural rising and falling of data or a signal of the next surge. Over the last two years, we have experienced intense waves followed by lull periods. These moments of decreased activity were a welcome change of pace but ultimately fleeting. Cases rocketed upward only a short time later.

Active adjustments

Tri-County Health Care holds patient safety above all else. We have reformulated our standards of mitigation to offer increased protection while allowing for a certain level of convenience in our care. Our level of mitigation will rise and fall with the community prevalence of COVID-19. Numbers are on the downswing, so we are opening up, but we are ready to swiftly reinstate the same level of mitigation techniques in the event of a surge.

The only way to end the pandemic is with collective effort. Mitigation needs to be at the forefront of our efforts. COVID-19 vaccination needs to be fully embraced if we are to finally end the pandemic. As of now, Wadena County is far below the vaccination rate required to achieve herd immunity. We are at 47.3 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Health statistics prepared on March 17. 70 percent of our county residents need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

What do you think?

Do you think COVID-19 will ever end? Ask yourself that question and be reasonable in your answer. Do you think we are entering a COVID-19 endemic phase? We are curious about your thoughts on the current state of our pandemic. Feel free to share in the comment section.

To schedule vaccination, call 218-631-3510. Patients can also receive the COVID-19 vaccine during a regular appointment with their provider. Please follow Tri-County Health Care on social media or visit TCHC.org/covidvaccine for regular updates.


Masks matter in schools!

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“I choose to wear a mask for a couple of different reasons. I currently have a high-risk teacher, and I want to protect the residents I work with at Mills Manor. I also don’t want to miss out on things like homecoming, prom, sports, and graduation,” said Lauryn Gravelle when asked about masks in school.

Senior year of high school is a major milestone in a person’s K-12 education. It is the grand finale that makes all the homework, cramming, and pop quizzes fade away. However, students have been missing out on this well-earned victory lap in the last couple of years. In 2020, graduations and proms were canceled in mass or held in an orthodox fashion. This year is gearing up to be no different as schools around the nation report high numbers of positive COVID-19 cases.

Lauryn is very busy with school, sports, and masks!

Lauryn Gravelle

Out of fashion

For a good chunk of 2020, masks were in style. Students across the country were sewing and bedazzling mask fabric in an act of pandemic unity. Unfortunately, things have shifted over the last several months, with mask no longer being seen as a helpful resource, only a hindrance. Right now, masks and the vaccine are two of the most powerful tools in the fight against COVID-19, but fatigue has set in. Months ago, classrooms were filled with masked students doing their best to continue studying during a pandemic. That fatigue is seen in school systems across the country.

Doing the right thing isn’t always comfortable

Lauryn’s mother, Wendy Gravelle, is a certified registered nurse anesthetist at Tri-County Health Care. She is also passionate about masking and the vaccine. “I was surprised as I didn’t know she was doing it. At a volleyball game, I saw her wearing it. I asked why she had it on, thinking maybe she wasn’t feeling well,” explained Wendy. Lauryn told her mother she wanted to protect those around her and do more to help during the pandemic.

“I honestly was just so proud at that moment to realize this is something she chose on her own, and it wasn’t me forcing her to do it.  Her sisters have also started wearing their masks, and I believe it was because of the impact she had on them.” – Wendy Gravelle

Wendy has four children, and all of them willfully chose to be vaccinated. Her family is very connected to the caregiving environment, and they would never want to accidentally transmit the virus to others, especially the elderly and immunocompromised. Lauryn works in an assisted living home and is frequently around people highly susceptible to COVID-19.

Masks have fallen out of fashion at many schools.

Masked and united

Masking is still crucial in the fight against COVID-19. It’s so important that even the vaccinated should wear one. Breakthrough infections can still occur in the vaccinated, making masks necessary for everyone when out and about. “I decided that Lauryn is empowering me to also follow her lead, and I wore my mask to her volleyball game. Everyone assumes you’re sick if you wear it. I informed them that if Lauryn can wear her mask at school, so can I,” said Wendy. Lauryn and some of her friends have been wearing masks to school, sporting events and while out shopping. They hope wearing their masks will inspire others to do the same. Lauryn is especially concerned for younger people that claim COVID-19 is a hoax.

The vaccine is currently available to children 12 and up. The vaccine is expected to be open to children ages 5 to 11 soon. Wendy spoke with Tri-County providers before getting her kids vaccinated. She recommends that parents talk to a trusted medical professional in addition to gathering information from trusted sources.

Wendy Gravelle is supporter of masks and vaccinations.

Wendy Gravelle

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

Tri-County Health Care aims to vaccinate as many people as possible. To schedule an appointment, call 218-631-3510. Patients can also request the vaccine during regular provider appointments. Please follow Tri-County Health Care on social media or visit TCHC.org/covidvaccine for regular updates.


COVID-19 Requires Unified Response

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We have reached a serious and critical point in our efforts to battle COVID-19. COVID-19 requires a unified response now. This virus is not only affecting those overseas or in densely populated areas; it has made its way to rural central Minnesota and is currently spreading quickly right here in our own backyard. Cases of COVID-19 have surged in recent weeks. The trajectory of these cases is predicted to increase throughout the holiday season.Tri-County Health Care COVID Todd County Wadena County Health Partners Germs Hand Hygiene

Healthcare facilities and their respective staff have watched as larger regional hospitals within the state have been overrun. Bed space has been depleted; there is no more room. That means COVID-positive individuals that may have otherwise been transferred to a larger hospital must seek care locally, increasing the strain on our local hospitals which are also near capacity. If this trend continues, this crisis will quickly increase and affect our ability to provide care to those who need it. People who could have been saved may succumb to COVID-19.

As the holidays draw near, healthcare leaders in the area have come together to plead that you celebrate responsibly this holiday season. These gatherings can be a significant source of spread and risk the lives of family members and friends. It may not be easy, but we ask you please try to find safe alternatives to these gatherings. Stay home. Call your loved ones or use video chat to communicate.

Fighting this virus requires a unified front, not just from hospitals but from every single individual. Everyone needs to practice physical distancing, wash your hands regularly, only leave home when absolutely necessary and wear a mask when in public.

COVID-19 is not a hoax or conspiracy. It is a very real virus affecting us all. The recent COVID-19 surge requires unified response. Please take this message seriously. For us to return to normal life as soon as possible, it must be earned with great effort and genuine care for others.

Thank you and stay well,

Daniel J Swenson
Administrator, CentraCare – Long Prairie

Joel Beiswenger
President & CEO, Tri-County Health Care

Tim Rice
President & CEO, Lakewood Health System

Jackie Och
Director, Todd County Health & Human Services

Cindy Pederson
Director, Wadena County Public Health


Managing Chronic Conditions During the Pandemic

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The Coronavirus pandemic has been a stressful time for many people. This stress can be heightened for those with chronic conditions that need to be closely monitored. Having access to health care is of vital importance for these higher risk patients and Tri-County Health Care has implemented protective measures to make sure all patients are able to receive the care they need.Coronavirus risk factors poster with flat line icons. Vector illustration included icon as elderly citizens, diabetes, heart and respiratory desease pictogram. Medical, healthcare blue infographics.

According to research from the Centers for Disease Control, older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from the Coronavirus. This includes people 65 years and older and those with chronic lung disease, serious heart conditions, severe obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and liver disease.

It is important for people to manage these conditions to the best of their ability to lower the risk of severe complications should they be infected with the Coronavirus.

“We want to identify any symptoms of chronic conditions as soon as possible and make sure they are under control to improve the outcome if the patient does contract the Coronavirus,” said Alison Meyer, APRN, CNP. “We have continued to see these patients to confirm their needs are met so they don’t run into complications because of these chronic conditions.”

Healthcare worker at home visit of patient with chronic conditionTri-County Health Care has continued to reach out to higher risk patients to let them know it’s safe to come in to meet with their provider, complete any necessary lab work and stay up to date on their medications. Appointments are scheduled so patients can complete all of these steps in one visit to the clinic. Providers are also seeing patients through Video Visits, as another option for some situations.

In addition to closely monitoring their conditions, patients are encouraged to stay active and get plenty of exercise, eat healthy foods, practice good hand hygiene and limit exposure by social distancing.

Safety precautions are in place at all Tri-County Health Care locations to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. All patients and staff are screened and masked prior to entering the clinic, visitor restrictions are in place to reduce the number of people in the facilities, all high-touch surfaces and exam rooms are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, personal protective equipment is worn by patients and staff and social distancing measures are in place in all areas.

“These precautions are in place so patients can access their health care and make sure we keep track of any complications,” Meyer said. “We want our patients to know when they come in, it’s a safe place and we have their best interest in mind.”


Social Distancing: Navigating the new normal

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When I was in Mrs. Basche’s 5th grade class, I had an obsession with two things: chewing gum and brushing my hair. Chewing gum wasn’t allowed in class or school but that wasn’t enough of a deterrent for me. I liked gum and spent my allowance on it, so it was mine to chew where and when I wanted. It was the early 80’s so hair was a big deal and working on becoming an even bigger deal! I had this cool Goody-brand brush that I absolutely loved which I purchased from Sterling Drug Store with my allowance (along with a jumbo Lip Smackers in Tootsie Roll flavor).

Mrs. Basche didn’t share my enthusiasm for chewing gum and brushing my hair. First of all, chewing gum was illegal (oh, the elementary school crimes!) and she didn’t allow it in her classroom. If she found that a student had gum, they were required to take it out of their mouth and put it on their nose for the rest of the school day.social distancing in the supermarket

The punishment was social shaming.

She took a different approach with my obsession for brushing my hair. She took me aside and said that I need to “calm down the brushing” and perhaps consider only brushing my hair before and after school — not during her class as my hair might fall out from all that brushing. This was more of a deterrent than anything else she could have mentioned!

Lately, I feel like, even though I am – ahem — so many years old, I have felt more and more like that 5th grade version of myself.  No, I am not obsessively brushing my hair and chewing gum while quarantined (it’s a call for help if that starts happening!), but I am not sure how to act or behave. I am not sure I completely understand the rules of the Coronavirus mitigation and I don’t want to be socially shamed.

Don’t get me wrong, I am following the rules and staying in quarantine and isolation whenever possible. However, I find myself in a few situations where I actually see other human beings that aren’t related to and live with me and that aren’t on Zoom or FaceTime.

I was at the grocery store the other day looking for some ingredients to make fajitas or street tacos (I will say that staying home has made me think outside the box on my food menu — there is only so many days of enthusiasm for goulash, spaghetti, tacos, and hot dogs. I thought the world was going to explode when I announced to my family (all men, mind you) that we were going to have a salad for supper. A salad, nothing more — just salad with a lot of fresh cut veggies. There was almost a full-out revolt. I conceded and asked: “would you like a type of protein with it?” My son replied: “you mean, like meat?”

Woman wearing face mask buying grocery in supermarket during Covid-19 pandemic. Female with a shopping cart purchasing some food items in supermarket.An older gentleman was looking at the same things I was in the grocery store, so I moved my cart and made sure to practice safe social distancing from him. He kept moving down the aisle toward me; I kept on moving away. I don’t know that he fully realized how close he was getting and I wasn’t sure he wasn’t trying to “socially distance bully me” away from the meat I was looking at. Was someone watching us? I stopped what I was doing and glanced around the store. Were they going to come up and get us into trouble?

This social distancing thing is hard to understand.

Another time, I was at the gas station filling up my car and went in to pay and get milk, only to realize that there was a line of people waiting to be checked out. I didn’t want to stand in line because it was a small space to begin with, but I didn’t know what to do with myself. I walked around and did a little shopping which is something I normally do not do at a gas station.

My mind wandered while browsing: How much is the bread here, do they have eggs, I would really like Corn Nuts but they are all carbs, the pizza smells good but I shouldn’t have that either. I was wasting time because I didn’t want to put myself in a situation of being “too close” to people. I didn’t want someone to tell me to “back off” or “social distance myself” or look at me like I didn’t understand how to use recommended forms of mitigation.

When I back my car out to go to work, I swear my neighbors are looking at me thinking – “there she goes again, where is she going? Shouldn’t she be at home?” I want to tape my letter from work that states I am in health care, so they all see that I have a legitimate need to travel during this Coronavirus pandemic. I am supposed to be doing this and I’m not breaking the rules!Social distancing being practiced at supermarket payment counter in Malaysia, with 1 meter gap between people in queue.

This whole thing has me re-thinking and questioning norms. I don’t know if the man at the grocery store was trying to “socially distance bully me” or the gas station customers thought I was too close. Do my neighbors really think these things when I get in my car and back out of the driveway?

I want to do the right thing and I want people to be safe. I want my family and myself to be safe.

In the same sense, I don’t want to be forced to put my gum on my nose like when I got caught in 5th grade. Mrs. Basche did catch me and told me to put my gum on my nose, but I refused to be socially shamed. So, I swallowed it, thinking the gum would now have a 7-year sentence in my stomach, and I took the after-school detention. I did take her advice though and “calm down my hair brushing” which as an adult I can see with 20/20 vision how annoying it was to her, as the teacher, and all of my classmates.

Right now, it’s like we are all back in school trying to figure out how to navigate a changing world where as we grow and learn, we adjust to the social norms around us.

After 9/11, we all learned that destruction and suffering could occur in a matter of minutes through the use of planes as bombs and ideology as inflictors of terror. We learned that security and privacy were not separate entities. It was as if we learned that there were new rules added to this game called the human existence.

The Coronavirus has led to rules changing, and us along with it, but this world classroom has a lot of students in it and we are learning — all of us, together — as uncomfortable as it might be.

About the Author: Susan Marco lives with her husband, Troy, and has two children, Kenzie (21) and Jack (18). Susan enjoys spending time with her family and enjoys reading and writing. Susan also has her own personal blog where she writes about her various experiences as well as tackles the topic of Alzheimer’s, which she knows first-hand in caring for her mother.


Coronavirus: Ask the Tri-County Health Care Experts

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States around the country have been taking drastic measures to help limit the spread of the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Governor Tim Walz has issued an executive “Stay at Home” order for Minnesotans to significantly mitigate person-to-person contact.

While many people in the state will be staying home to help “Flatten the Curve,” Tri-County Health Care staff remain busy preparing for the Coronavirus to reach our communities. We know there are many questions circling this pandemic and our experts at TCHC wanted to take the time to answer questions on a wide range of topics. This week, our experts cover who is considered in the high-risk category, how children are affected, ways to clean and disinfect your home and alternative options to seek medical care during this pandemic.

Coronavirus Q&A ask the experts imageQ: What groups of people are considered in the high-risk category?

The reason so many experts stress the importance of social distancing is because it is crucial in reducing the spread of the virus to high-risk individuals in our communities. Ben Hess, M.D., explains who we are working to protect while social distancing.

Dr. Hess: When we talk about high-risk patients, we’re talking about two specific groups – people who have an increased risk of catching the Coronavirus and another group who may struggle after becoming ill with it.

The first group includes people who have problems with their immune system. This can be people who have an autoimmune disease or are on medication that suppresses their immune system. These people not only have a higher risk of catching Coronavirus, but are also more likely to become seriously ill.

The other group includes people with chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease. Even if they have good control of their condition, we still want them to take precautions like they are in the high-risk group. While they may not catch the Coronavirus quite as easily, their chronic diseases can play a much larger role if they do become ill. For example, if a patient has a condition like diabetes under control, but then becomes critically ill, their body can no longer control the diabetes and their complications worsen.

Q: How does the Coronavirus affect children?

Dr. Hess: Studies show young children tend to tolerate and do much better with Coronavirus symptoms than adults. They are in the low-risk category and have a low chance of getting seriously ill or hospitalized from the Coronavirus. The risk isn’t zero, but it’s much lower than adults.

Q: What are ways to clean and disinfect inside the home?

Many people are wondering how to best clean and disinfect areas in their own households. This is important not only to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, but also good practice for everyday germs. The Environmental Services team does this on a daily basis at Tri-County Health Care and has tips for how to best keep the household clean and free of germs.

Betty Klingaman, TCHC Housekeeping Supervisor: Using a bucket and rag, make sure to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. These contact surfaces can include handles, desks, phones and keyboards. Make sure to clean all parts of the contact surfaces, including underneath tabletops and desks. If the surface is dirty, clean with soap and water prior to disinfecting.

Homemade disinfectant:

-Mix 5 tablespoons or 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons per quart of room temperature water.

DO NOT use hot or cold water – this minimizes the effectiveness of disinfectant.

-Mixed solution has a shelf life of 24 hours.

-Household bleach is effective against Coronavirus when properly diluted.

Tips:

-Contact surfaces should stay wet to ensure complete disinfecting.

-Be careful with solution – bleach can damage surfaces and discolor material.

-Follow manufacturer instructions for application and proper ventilation.

-Make sure product is not expired.

-Never mix household bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners.

 

Q: What if I need to see my provider but don’t want to risk exposure to the Coronavirus?

Jill Wilkens, MPAS/PA-C: We know that it is still necessary for us to provide care not only for the sick, but for our routine healthy patients as well. You may still need to be seen in certain situations. We are working out a process to find a safe alternative location to take care of our healthy patients. If you feel unsafe coming into our facility, please call and we will do whatever we can over the phone. You can also utilize MyChart and we will take care of you.

Patients also have the option to seek care online through the TCHC eClinic where providers can virtually diagnose, recommend treatment and prescribe medication. (Our eClinic also offers FREE Coronavirus screening)

 

Q: What news sources do you recommend to stay updated and informed on the Coronavirus? What should we do to be prepared?

Dr. Hess: Take care of yourself, eat healthy, stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, get good exercise, and keep an eye out for updated information here or visit Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health.