SPOONER, WI -- Spooner Health CEO Mike Schafer recently answered six questions regarding COVID-19 (Coronavirus) as it relates to Spooner Health. You can read his responses to each question below.
Note: Questions are in bold.
What did Spooner Health think and how did you initially respond when there was a realization that COVID-19 was going to impact our area?
As news of COVID-19 came closer and closer to our area, we knew we had to act quickly. Incident Command was established, which consisted of hospital leaders, clinic physicians, Dr. Pat McCann, Medical Director of Emergency Services and Theresa Hutzler, APNP, Director of Hospitalist Services. We quickly plugged in to state and regional organizations and round tables for updates and recommendations. Meetings were held three times a week to discuss and act quickly upon changing recommendations and every decision made was thoroughly vetted amongst Incident Command. We wanted to look ahead and make decisions rather than look back and wish we had done something sooner. A lot of the safety measures that were put into place at Spooner Health were established earlier than other larger facilities in the state out of caution.
Our employees did a phenomenal job responding to the changes as well. As much as it seemed from the outside we were changing frequently, imagine what it was like on the inside! Everyone really remained patient and we always strived for open communication about why and how we were doing things differently because of COVID-19.
What were some of the challenges you experienced?
It was difficult dealing with the unknown. Even as cities were seeing COVID-19 rapidly progress, there was still a lot of unknowns with how it was spread, how it was contained, what the symptoms were and what it meant for the healthcare industry. We erred on the side of caution with a lot of decisions based on what could possibly happen in our area and what we could handle. Another challenge we faced was the rapidly changing recommendations coming from the CDC and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. We worked as fast as we could to make sure that our policies and procedures were aligned with state and federal guidelines.
How has the nationwide shortage of PPE affected Spooner Health?
As the situation unfolded, we wanted to be as prepared as possible for a surge in COVID-19 patients. However, we found ourselves much like other clinics and hospitals – there just wasn’t enough emergency supplies of PPE. Not only could we not get our normal supply of PPE, in many cases we could not get any. We started getting on as many wait lists as possible, knowing that the supply chain was closed all over the country. A lot of our discussion in Incident Command was based around how to preserve PPE. In fact, it’s still a discussion that we have today. We want to keep patients and employees safe, but we also know the reality of how difficult it is to secure large quantities of PPE. We put out a request for community donations and had a tremendous response. We received PPE from Washburn County residents and beyond as well as some really great homemade cloth masks that our employees and patients are so thankful for. The shortage of PPE isn’t an issue that is going to go away anytime soon – especially if COVID-19 continues at the current pace. We are starting to see the supply chain open back up and orders finally coming in so we feel confident that we are balancing the best of both worlds – patient/employee safety and preserving PPE for future emergency use.
Why are you testing people now that couldn’t be tested before?
Testing has been a challenge that we have had to adapt to several times over the course of the past few months. When we first knew cases were presenting in Wisconsin, testing was very limited for several reasons. Only state labs were doing the testing and the test kits themselves were not available in large quantities. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services set the guidelines for who qualified for testing and we adhered strictly to those guidelines. As we understood more about COVID-19 and as it continued to spread, both the CDC and DHS determined that we needed to expand testing. Private labs became more readily equipped to partner with and Spooner Health started working with Quest Labs and later Health East. We worked hard to become the first non-Essentia testing collection site, which allowed us to expand testing, giving area residents an additional option for testing. DHS guidelines were still stringent though and we continued to adhere to those guidelines. Now, with Gov. Evers’ Badger Bounce Back initiative, testing has become a priority in the state and guidelines have loosened. Testing collection supplies also have become more readily available, and we are confident that we can meet the goal of testing all patients with symptoms.
The easiest way to get tested is through Essentia Health’s free screening hotline. You can also call your clinic provider to discuss your symptoms. Other clinics and facilities in the area are also screening and testing anyone with any symptoms as determined by DHS. We hope with the expansion of testing, we can start achieving the widened gap between positives and negatives per the goals of the Badger Bounce Back initiative.
With businesses reopening, what is Spooner Health’s plan to start resuming services?
One of the toughest decisions we had to make at the beginning of this was to temporarily suspend outpatient appointments and procedures. This included rehabilitation services, diagnostic imaging and specialty services including our outpatient clinic and surgeries. This was done for a number of reasons. We wanted to protect our most vulnerable patients, we needed to preserve PPE and we wanted to prepare for a potential surge in COVID-19 affected patients. Additionally, on March 18 the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services strongly recommended that all U.S. hospitals cease doing elective and non-essential services. We recognize the importance of these services in the well being of our patients and have decided to slowly open back up these services with precautions and limitations in place. We still have one entrance with a screening table and any patients coming in for appointments or procedures will be spaced out so that there are not any patients waiting together for any service. All our employees are masked, and each patient will be required to wear a mask as well. Our employees miss why we are here – the patients! They truly are excited to resume services and start serving our community again. We want to continue to deliver necessary healthcare, but also realize the times we are in now require extra precautions.
Is the hospital safe to visit?
The hospital is one of the safest places in Washburn County to visit. We have strict visitation policies, screening procedures in the emergency entrance of the hospital and stringent infection control policies. If you need to come here for rehab, your yearly mammogram, an emergency room visit or infusion services, we are open and ready to take care of you. We will also begin providing some outpatient procedures. Your health is our number one priority and we can assure you that you are safer in our care. We look forward to being able to expand more services while still being cautiously aware of the impact COVID-19 can and will have on our community.
We have been extremely lucky here in Washburn County to have such a supportive group of community members who support the hospital and the greater efforts of the state to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Between the tremendous amount of support we got with community donations to the positive messages we have received from patients, employees and community members, we feel that we can overcome this and be stronger together.