This article was originally printed in the June 24, 2020, New York Mills Herald Dispatch by Natalie Hilden, editor. 

Perham Health is prepared to overcome COVID-19 cases if the virus were to surge in the area.

Jill Carlson, Family Centered Care Director at Perham Health, believes that the organization has been progressing with their preparedness since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout all the unknowns, providers, along with hospital leadership, have been continuously educating themselves, and others, on how to handle COVID-19 related situations in the best way possible.

“I fully feel we have been well-prepared for a good part of this whole pandemic. It took a couple weeks of figuring out what was going on,” Carlson said. “Between our facilities staff and our leadership, we quickly got rooms prepared for a surge in our area.”

Perham Health has made switches to their hospital spaces and emergency room spaces in light of COVID-19 concerns. Waiting rooms have been rearranged to allow for proper social distancing, negative pressure spaces have been created to allow air that may be contaminated with COVID-19 particles to not be recirculated through the hospital, and continuous education has been put in place for the safety of patients and providers alike.

Prior to the start of the pandemic, Perham Health had two of those negative pressure rooms to prevent air re-circulation, but Carlson said more of those types of spaces have been created.

“Once we started getting prepared, we had ten rooms we could quickly double up to have space for twenty COVID-19 patients in our hospital space.” In our ER, we turned all of our rooms into negative pressure spaces,” Carlson said. “It was a lot of fast training of staff, a lot of getting of supplies, and constant educating on how we can best take care of our patients and keep ourselves safe so we can go home and enjoy our families.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 stats, Otter Tail County is currently sitting at 83 positive cases of the virus with one confirmed death.  Carlson said that it is very important residents of Otter Tail County don’t get complacent in taking precautions because the virus is in the county, and the numbers reflect that.

“People have to have in their heads that it is here and to not get complacent,” said Carlson. “Every time someone leaves to go out, I think they need to have in their head, ‘what am I going to do to keep myself safe this time’.”

As restrictions on local establishments slowly lift, Carlson said members of the community can still do their best to protect themselves and others. Ultimately, those precautions are what can help lower the possibility of a surge in the county.

“Some of the most important things are the ones you’ve heard over and over again,” Carlson said. “You just have to add this additional thought on, we are the ones in control if there is going to be a surge in our area.”

She encouraged wearing masks every time you are out in public, practicing social distancing, and practicing proper hand hygiene. Carlson said these precautions can make an impact. These precautions can make an impact. Along with the more routine ideas, Carlson encourages people to get outside, stay active, and stay up-to-date on going to the clinic for routine things. Maintaining proper health can help an immune system stay as healthy as possible.

When so many people are worried about exposure to COVID-19, the hospital can seem like the last place a person wants to go unless absolutely necessary. But, Carlson wanted to stress that Perham Health is also providing safety measures at the clinic to make it easy and worry free for people to manage their routine health visits.

“Right now, we have set up a separate unit for anyone with respiratory symptoms,” Carlson said.  “When you come to the door you will be asked the screening questions 2-3 times, waiting rooms are made so you can social distance.”

Perham Health is also operating a COVID-19 testing center. That testing center is a drive up and Carlson said it is being run through the clinic.

“They want you to call the clinic first and set it up,” Carlson said. “We have definitely done a lot of testing.”

Carlson said that Perham Health is working on navigating their new norm along with everyone in the community. But, they still hold the biggest goal of helping people stay healthy and safe through COVID-19 and beyond.

“We are learning a new norm and we have no idea on how long or where, there is a lot of speculation out there, but we want to keep our Otter Tail County people safe,” Carlson said.