SHELBY — Marias Medical Center in Shelby says it has been taking every precaution possible when it comes to preparing the Toole County community for COVID -19 (coronavirus) to hit.
According to the state COVID-19 website, there are now 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Toole County (see below). Three of Montana's six COVID-19 deaths have been Toole County residents. Governor Steve Bullock on Tuesday extended state-wide closures and restrictions through April 24; click here for details.
Marias Medical Center CEO William Kiefer says as a regional hospital, they have been tracking the virus since early January to prepare for what they might see, and says that preparation has paid off for them so far.
“This has definitely been a challenge. Watching it trend, watching what was happening in China to see if it was going to spread, and fortunately we started to act quickly because we know that we have limited resources. We started looking for PPE (personal protective equipment) to bring into the organization, which we were able to find and fortunately that has sustained us.”
Although they have had enough equipment, there were still a large number of staff that had been potentially exposed, causing them to send employees to self-quarantine at home, which presented its own challenges. Kiefer said, “The remainder of the staff have had to come together, band together and work to pick up shifts so we can continue to provide care for our patients at the hospital (and) our residents at our assisted living facility as well.”
Being a relatively small facility, Marias has been working with medical facilities in Kalispell, Cut Bank, and Conrad to stay connected. Kiefer says they have been working to share best practices and sharing what each organization has done in terms of preparation, and sharing information and resources. They collectively decided to set up a formal incident command based at Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
“They are creating a labor pool, creating joint press releases and looking at all of the different needs that are created for the healthcare entities and organizations and looking to meet those needs,” Kiefer says, adding that the assistance has been critical to them during this time.
He did say they see some good news in the future in that a majority of their workforce will be back throughout the week which will help with staffing and being able to keep everyone safe and healthy.
“When it impacts a community like it’s impacted ours, it becomes that much more real that this is not just happening in New York City, this is happening right here in Shelby Montana and we have to do everything in our individual and collective powers to help get it out of our community.”
Marias Medical Center and its employees began using the hashtag #keeponkeepingon and using the term in their every day tasks, as a way to keep up morale, and let their staff know they are all together in this fight.
As of Tuesday (April 7), there have been a total of 319 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Montana, and six deaths (source/map). There have been three deaths in Toole County, and one each in Lincoln County, Madison County, and Missoula County. There have now been 28 hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Montana, and 57 recovered patients. The DPHHS public health lab in Helena has completed 6,985 tests for COVID-19.
(APRIL 5) As of Sunday evening (April 5), there are now 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Toole County, an increase of four from Saturday, according to the latest update from the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services (source/map). NOTE: as of April 7, the DPHHS now reports there are 15 confirmed cases, despite reporting 16 on Sunday.
In addition, three of Montana's five COVID-19 deaths have been Toole County residents. The estimated population is about 4,900 for Toole County; for Shelby, the county seat, the number is about 3,200.
The Marias Medical Center in Shelby said on March 26 that one of the residents of the Marias Heritage Center tested positive for COVID-19. Marias Heritage Center is a 38 apartment, state-licensed facility in Shelby. The next day, they said that some of the positive COVID-19 tests are from Marias Heritage Center employees. They also said: "This situation also exposed others to COVID-19 and, as such, we expect there could be other positives."
According to the DPHHS, the Toole County cases are:
- 1 female between the ages of 10 and 19
- 3 females between 20-29
- 2 females between 30-39
- 1 female between 40-49
- 2 females and 1 male between 50-59
- 1 female and 1 male between 70-79
- 2 females between 80-89
- 2 females between 90-99
Blair Tomsheck of the Toole County Health Department said in a news release on Friday: "We are working closely with all healthcare entities in Toole County to address these ongoing cases as they are related to current investigations." The TCHD said on Saturday evening that 160 COVID-19 tests have been administered in Toole County to date.
Llew Jones, a member of the Montana House of Representatives, said on Sunday that actions are being taken in response to the spread of COVID-19 in Toole County. Jones said in a Facebook post that he participated in an incident update call under the direction of Bob Sandman, the incident commander that is working with Kalispell Regional Medical Center, Pondera County, Toole County, and Glacier County to coordinate the response in this region.
Jones said the following actions are being taken:
- A deep clean crew is enroute to Marias Medical Center and will arrive at 1 o'clock today to begin work.
- Great Falls Medical and Kalispell Medical are working to develop a labor pool to address critical shortages. The Incident Command Team will take direct control of the labor pool beginning next week.
- The National Guard will be in Shelby today, will begin work Monday morning to help with staff shortage in Heritage Center.
- The National Guard is in process of defining the process for providing ambulance services for Covid transport from the region to Great Falls or Kalispell if needed. This should be operational shortly.
- A rapid response team is being developed to include telehealth and addressing critical nursing care (plan is to fly nurses to surge areas to deal with critical nursing component)—hopefully this response plan will be in place by Monday. The focus here is to deal with Covid 19 transport and release to home quarantine as needed.
He said: "It is comforting to be able to share that a strong coordinated effort is underway. All the area medical facilities and emergency response groups were represented on the call, with the general report being that the situation, while difficult, was being addressed. I personally am very impressed and thankful for our local healthcare providers and their frontline efforts to keep us all safe."