Hospital Corner – February, 2021
Last month’s “super-spreader” event that resulted in COVID-19 infection spike is behind us, county positivity rate is lowest it has been since last fall—so, are we through with pandemic? Hardly! The finish line may be faintly visible on the distant horizon but still a long way to go before we get there and life returns to normal. Good news: vaccinations rate for Mineral County residents 70 years and older exceeds 90%–one of the best rural numbers for that age group in the state. Other age groups? Not so good. Hospital staff have not led by example as we are still under 50%, but efforts continue to immunize all who want a shot of Moderna. Until we reach 70% and achieve some level of herd immunity, masks, physical distancing and handwashing remain best defense against further spread. With viral mutations producing new variants of coronavirus, the quicker we get to herd immunity, the less likely these variants will spread and cause harm. My appeal to you remains the same: get vaccinated for your loved ones and neighbors (local businesses will be grateful too).
Last fall I mentioned how much most people don’t like change—and was recently reminded that talking about change is quite a bit different from experiencing it. A few Sundays ago, a county resident left a message on my cell phone, expressing concern over provider staffing changes. Her worries were completely understandable, which made me realize the hospital hasn’t done a good job communicating these changes to patients and the community at large. A monthly newspaper column and announcements on Facebook aren’t nearly enough to inform and reassure folks about providers leaving, staying, or joining us. We need to do better in the future.
Our new provider group for ER and Hospitalist services is Rural Physicians Group (RPG). A rotation of 4-5 providers will be covering the emergency room and rounding on swing and inpatients. While new faces, this is much the same practice that has been in place for years here—with the exception of Dr. Ventura, who retired recently. Impossible to replace him but our new providers will ensure each patient receives the best care possible at our frontier critical access hospital.
Speaking of Dr. V, his clinic staff will be working with remaining providers at the Mt. Grant Medical Building; we will not be hiring a new doc at this time due to decreased patient volumes—another symptom of the pandemic. If patient visits increase in the clinic, we will consider adding medical staff. Doctors Dofeliz and Ruch, Nurse Practitioner Tobey Morris, and Physician Assistant Laura (Millsap) Bateman are welcoming new as well as any former patients of Dr. Ventura.
Winter 2018, in conjunction with REMSA, we launched Nurse Health Line service in Mineral County, enabling 24/7 access to trained nurses. From minor first aid questions to emergency situations requiring immediate attention, these nurses are able to quickly assess the urgency and offer informed guidance on best course of action. Unfortunately, usage has been far less than expected; about one hundred calls a year are received from local residents. Given the minimal usage and ongoing cost to the hospital to provide this service, we have given REMSA 60 days notice of cancellation. If you feel this is a service worth keeping, please let me know—as we can always reverse course.
We began with COVID so let’s end there as well. Our medical staff has been closely monitoring county positivity rates and making plans for gradual reopening of clinic, hospital, and (most importantly) nursing home. Due to the highly infectious nature of the virus and the many patients/residents here with underlying health conditions, you can appreciate our caution moving forward. Again, major factors for reopening are community vaccination rate and general mask compliance—not there yet. Planning for March but wait for official word in coming week. Remember: never too late to get vaccinated!
Hugh Qualls, Administrator