Lake Region Healthcare (LRH) recently gave an update on how they are coping amidst the newest variant of COVID-19, omicron, as well as the still circulating delta.

In Otter Tail County, as of Monday, Jan. 2, the number of new lab confirmed cases of COVID-19 were 125.

According to chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care, Roberta Young, “We have at least 24 staff that are currently out right now due to COVID-19, and about 4-5 patients who are currently hospitalized and being treated. While the state is reporting some of its highest levels of the pandemic, we don’t have those numbers here, but we’re watching that very closely.”

As can sometimes be the case, being in a rural area has its benefits because of the isolation, however, recent events like the pileup on Interstate 94 near Ashby highlighted the need for how LRH, along with other area providers, would respond to such a situation while still being able to take care of patients who were admitted because of COVID-19.

LRH CEO Kent Mattson said, “As we’re approaching the 24 month of COVID-19, it has kind of morphed into this continuing medical surge event where we’re busy with COVID-19, but we’re also busy with all of the other things that the community relies on us to take care of.” Mattson explained that the main factor that is affecting our day-to-dayday, and sometimes hour-to-hour operations is the impact on staffing. With everything from illnesses to retirements — some early — and other effects, the workforce is shorter and tighter.

Every day LRH monitor how many people are out due to illness, which gets compounded by the fact that they are short-staffed. They currently have about three times the open number of positions that they typically have. So, the demand is high because the supply is short — because it takes longer to fill those open positions.

“(We are) 24 months into this and we want to make sure the community understands that we’re ready from the perspective of calm, solid-planning and all the other things we’ve learned from these 24 months to not be operating in a crisis mode, because that doesn’t help anybody,” Mattson shared. “Rather, we want to normalize many of these things. We’ve built that from an operational perspective.”

Mattson emphasized that while they don’t want to downplay what the Minnesota Hospital Association is saying in terms of surge, that they are not seeing it as severely as other areas of the state, but says we still have to be vigilant.

Recruitment has become a priority at LRH due to the length of the pandemic. Mattson said they want to be able to respond the best they can given the circumstances.

“Because we’re so full and we’re optimizing staffing every day, things outside of the normal like a pileup on the freeway are really having the risk to challenge us in terms of capacities that are outside of our new normal,” Mattson expressed, explaining that in that instance LRH was available to take care of those that came into the emergency department. “We had emergency department staffing and radiology staffed. Everybody was ready for a big event. The challenge was if we had to move any of the patients to a higher level of care or to another facility. We’re kind of operating on a razor’s edge every day, and any major event that is outside of our typical norm, may really put our systems to the test.” Mattson continued, stressing that LRH wants to make sure the community knows that even though every day is a challenge, they are there to take care of them for the things they need.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way. We come up with innovation every day. So we’re pressing through it,” said Mattson. “We’re coming up with some unique ways to address our workforce challenges, whether it’s changing the way we do things day to day or our recruitment processes, we want the community to have confidence that they can come to us. Sometimes some of our days seem a little bit uncertain, but we’ve got a lot of communication going on between parts of the overall organization.”

Additionally, there is a national blood shortage restricting the amount and types of blood available to LRH.

Young said, “We’re taking a regional approach on that. We’re keeping a close eye on (the blood supply) we do have here.”

Young highlighted a blood drive event the YMCA will be hosting with the Red Cross Jan. 19-21. Young emphasized this would be a great way for the community to help right now. Fergus Falls residents are being encouraged to to reserve an appointment by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS.

There are other things that the community can do to help as well.

In terms of the virus, Young said, “We’re seeing an increase with (omicron), solely from community exposure. We don’t have a high booster rate right now for the vaccine, which would probably make a difference. I think that’s the other contributing factor. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think that the next two to three weeks — with employees out with the virus — is going to be quite high.”

LRH continues to strongly encourage people to get vaccinated. Mattson said that while it might not prevent everyone from getting COVID-19, it is impacting the severity of it and protecting people from the more severe symptoms and death.

“The folks that are coming in unvaccinated are the ones we are seeing harder hit,” he shared. “So we encourage people to read up and become educated and informed. There is a plethora of information out there, with statistical, and science and medical that should make the case for vaccination. We respect personal choices but we’re seeing in our facilities that it is making a difference.”

Updated COVID-19 info or information regarding appointments is available online at lrhc.org/patients-visitors/covid-19/what-you-need-to-know-about-covid-19-coronavirus/covid19vaccine/.



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