Elective surgeries now available

Published in the Frazee-Vergas Forum; written by Barbie Porter, editor

The question of whether or not wearing a facemask works in the fight against COVID-19 has been circulating social media.

Perham Health’s general surgeon Brett Glawe made it clear – they do. He explained masks can prevent respiratory droplets of those infected from reaching a new host. He also stated the respiratory droplets are not small enough to go through a mask.

“Masks are 90 percent effective in preventing transmission,” he said. “And if someone who is not infected wears a mask that adds about 6 percent. Nothing is perfect, but dropping the likelihood of transmitting it by 96 percent is substantial.”

Glawe added by adhering to the social distancing guideline of keeping six feet from another person and minimizing the time one is in contact with others drops the potential for infection even further.

“All measures have evidence to support the effectiveness,” he said.

As far as PPE, Glawe said “right now” Perham Health is doing good, as far as the medical staff equipment. However, cloth masks are needed and donations are being sought.

He explained there is a difference between the two masks. The type of masks being used by medical staff are surgical masks, which are made by a medical supply company and have been tested for effectiveness for years.

The cloth masks have not been tested, which is why the medical staff does not wear them.

“We think it is fairly effective and it makes sense that they are, and that is why the community should wear one when out and about,” Glawe said.

Cloth masks are also being provided to patients that come in without one, and to those working in the business office or other areas of the hospital where direct patient contact is not had.

“I’d say two weeks ago that 10-to-20 percent of the people coming in were wearing masks, now I’d guess more than half are bringing their own,” he said.

On average, Perham health utilizes 490 surgical and cloth faces masks daily.

Donations can be brought to the loading dock, which is located at the back of the hospital. There is a marked container as well as signage to direct people.

Elective surgeries are now available

While emergency operations were still being done, annual check-ups and acute issues were put on hold on March 23 because of a state mandate.

Glawe said that caused stress for patients and staff alike. However, the initial stop order allowed the hospital to prepare incase of an influx of COVID-19 cases at the hospital.

Two weeks ago the restrictions of what was considered elective were redefined, and semi-urgent cases were allowed to be addressed.

“We still weren’t doing a lot of elective stuff like screening or colonoscopies,” he explained.

As of Monday, May 11, all elective procedures were allowed to resume, and there has been an increase of people coming in.

“We are playing a bit of catch up,” he said. “We’re busy the next two weeks, but some are still hesitant. We still want people to take care of their health and they shouldn’t let problems get worse.”

Glawe added the way the hospital is operating is not the same as before.

“It’s still controlled,” he said.

Patients are screened to ensure they do not have COVID-19 before surgeries where there is a higher risk of transmitting pathogens. For example, when a patient needs to be intubated or a ventilator is to be used.

“We are testing those patients even if they show no symptoms,” he said. “We don’t have supplies to test everyone before a procedure. So, we grade it on how risky it is in regards to transmission and based on the PPE (personal protective equipment) that we use for that case.”

The supply of PPE at Perham Health is being monitored, as are the number of COVID-19 cases in the community. The county and Department of Health are informed of cases, so health care providers can have up-to-date counts.

The Minnesota Hospital Association and Department of Health created a plan, which allowed Perham Health to have a template they could use to create their own plan on moving forward in the face of the pandemic.

“If we have a certain amount of cases then we may back off on other procedures, and if we get to different levels we may back off more,” he said. “And, if we get to the maximum amount we may have to stop (elective procedures) again.”

If the area were to be hit with COVID-19 hospitalizations, Glawe said Perham Health has two ventilators in operating rooms. He explained the hospital does not have an Intensive Care Unit, which is why there are just a few ventilators.

“Taking care of vent patients requires a lot of supplies and other stuff that we don’t have because we don’t have an ICU,” he said.

The hospital also has a few transportation vents that can be used by the ambulance crew while bringing patients to Sanford in Fargo, N.D. or other facilities with an ICU.

Perham Health does have nine rooms for COVID-19 patients, and if there was a surge those rooms could be sectioned off and the number of beds doubled in that unit.

“Our preference is not to do that because it takes a lot of staff and supplies,” he said.

Glawe said Sandford in Fargo is equipped to handle a lot of COVID-19 patients, if needed. There was also an overflow station set up in the FargoDome.