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First Care Fights COVID-19

by Margarita Consing

August 2020

First Care service area For First Care Health Center, the number one priority has been the safety of the community and the people it serves. First Care, located in Park River, serves residents in Walsh, Cavalier, and Pembina Counties, in addition to others in nearby areas. From keeping up with the latest safety guidelines and facts, to planning and carrying out testing, to enforcing strict cleaning practices and wearing of personal protection in the facility, Park River's First Care Health System has been focused on COVID-19 prevention and treatment for both its staff and the community.

First Care Health Center "I am very proud and appreciative to work on a team that is like a family. I feel safer at work than out at public because of the extra cleaning," Waylon Lietz, First Care's Environmental Services Supervisor, said about the organization's team approach to keeping their facilities virus-free.

Lietz is also part of the organization's six-member Incident Command Task Force, which includes Lori Seim, Marcus Lewis, Megan Thompson, Alexa Holt, and Allie Kuchar. This task force participates in meetings with the North Dakota Hospital Association and the North Dakota Department of Health & Human Services that are key to First Care's leadership staying on top of the most recent information for prevention and treatment.

Lori Seim, Director of Nurses, emphasized that continuous education on COVID-19 is important in their decision-making as healthcare leaders of their community. She said having trusted and recent information is also a way to decrease panic. Seim said she wants people to know that First Care is a reliable source of information and encourages the public to also stay informed by calling First Care at (701) 284-4550 or accessing First Care's website and using the websites of the Walsh County Public Health Department and the North Dakota Department of Health & Human Services.

"COVID-19 is a real illness," Seim said. "We are constantly learning in order to keep up with the most up-to-date facts and guidelines from the experts at the North Dakota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who know more than anyone else. We are trying to give people information that will help stop the pandemic from further worsening, such as social distancing and staying at home."

Marcus Lewis, First Care's Chief Executive Officer, said that it's important to recognize that the virus is not a hoax and not the "flu". He added that he has been impressed with the number of people in the community who are wearing masks and social distancing.

Dr. Joel Johnson, a family medicine physician at First Care, said he strongly recommends the prevention precautions: wearing a mask, social distancing, handwashing, and keeping large gatherings to a minimum. He said masks are especially important to prevent further spread by individuals who have the virus, but don't have symptoms of the illness. Because of the recent increase in cases, Dr. Johnson also wanted to reinforce the importance of individuals to isolate themselves if they have COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19. He said he is hopeful that a vaccine will come out towards the end of the year or early next year which will be another way to prevent the infection.

Seim said that local testing has been a large part of First Care's plan to keep the public safe and that First Care's lab team is doing about 40-60 tests every day in addition to their regular duties. To decrease testing barriers, curbside and clinic swab tests are done every day. The patient will be called about their results within 24 hours. The swabbed sample is sent to the state for further analysis that takes about four to seven days to complete. While waiting for results, the patient should continue to self-isolate until First Care provides them with the state lab result.

In addition to testing those with symptoms, Seim emphasized that it is important to test as many people as possible without symptoms or those with possible exposure to COVID-19. This continuous testing is needed to better understand how COVID-19 is transmitted in the community. To date, nearly 30% of the population of Walsh County has been tested.

First Care's leaders said ensuring the safety of staff and patients has been a top priority and the handling of this crisis has been an organization-wide team effort.

"It is impressive to see how the staff has adjusted to the trials and additional workload of the pandemic," CEO Lewis said.

nurse on phone Lewis also wanted to emphasize that First Care has modified procedures to ensure patient safety and comfort. For example, staff are screened every day and have readily complied with the changing safety guidelines. Any patient admitted to the hospital is also screened to ensure the safety of other patients and staff. Nurses are thoroughly cleaning patient rooms between patient visits, in addition to answering many phone calls to address concerns about COVID-19. Masks are required for all employees and visitors and are provided for those without. Other safety measures include plexiglass at reception and the nursing station; six-foot chair spacing in offices, sitting areas, and waiting rooms; and placing red tape on the floors to ensure a smooth flow of traffic. Lewis also said that the organization is providing "contactless" health services using telemedicine and several other alternatives.

Seim said that First Care wants to keep the community informed about COVID-19, to decrease spread, and to keep people safe because their main goal is "to take care of our community because that is what we are here for, no matter what part of the journey, without discrimination or judgment."

This article also appeared in an August 2020 issue of the Walsh County Press.

About the Author

Margarita Consing is a third year medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. As a participant in the Center for Rural Health's Targeted Rural Health Education (TRHE) project, Consing has written this column because of her interest in understanding the role of local newspapers in bringing medical information to rural North Dakota citizens. The information is not for diagnosis or treatment and should not be used in place of previous medical advice provided by a licensed practitioner.