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May 28, 2020

4/17/2020 11:50:00 AM
Pandemic Paradox

While hospitals in some parts of the country have reported an overload of patients with COVID-19, local healthcare centers and clinics are not yet feeling the surge.
Upland Hills Health (UHH) in Dodgeville suspended elective or non-essential services mid-March in order to prevent the spread of the virus by minimizing the number of patients in the facility. This move was also made to conserve valuable personal protective equipment known as PPE (masks, gowns, etc.). PPE that may be needed should COVID-19 cause a sudden surge in patients. All visitors were restricted for the entire campus on March 25.
Lisa Schnedler, President and CEO of Upland Hills Health said the delay of the pandemic's arrival in Wisconsin has been beneficial.
"In an effort to prepare our organization to battle this pandemic, we have had to make very difficult decisions," Schnedler said. "We are grateful for this lead time. It has allowed us to think through scenarios and build emergency processes to minimize exposure to both patients and staff. We are tapping into the knowledge and experience of those who are in the midst of the battle, and will be better prepared as a result. Despite this, there are many uncertainties and we are very aware of the stresses on our staff and our community.
We are in daily communication with medical experts, federal, state and county health agencies and resources. They are providing the most accurate account of the pandemic. Models are showing that social distancing is having an effect. The most important thing each individual and business in our community can do to lessen the effect on our community is to follow the Safer at Home guidelines."
Lynn Hebgen, Vice President of Nursing at Upland Hills Health said the emergency planning team that has been meeting daily since mid-March brings a broad range of expertise to the table.
"The emergency planning team has been working hard to respond to the changing situation, and prepare UHH for what may happen in coming weeks. That team includes administrators, nurses, therapists, infection control, physician representatives, clinic managers, human resources, materials management - really a cross section of all areas of the hospital and clinics. Our goal is to provide high quality care, reflecting the best information available while preventing transmission of the infection to our staff and in our communities," explained Hebgen.
While gearing up for a surge in patients the Safer at Home directive has currently had the opposite effect within the Emergency Department and Family Medicine Clinics at UHH. Hospital officials report that patient traffic has reduced to the point that clinic management decided to reduce clinic hours to conserve resources. These temporary clinic hours are 9 am to 3pm. Clinics are not accepting walk-in appointments. Patients must make an appointment, then call from their vehicle when they arrive at the clinic, to minimize people sharing a waiting space.
The pandemic paradox seems to be while emergency management teams at the hospital are working long days to prepare for a surge, other areas of the hospital and clinics are temporarily closed or the pace has slowed.
Troy Marx, Upland Hills Health Director of Human Relations said UHH isn't immune to the staff reductions seen around the country.
"We are making unprecedented staffing changes in order to weather this very unusual situation. With several healthcare services suspended, we have a significant number of employees at home without work. We are reducing hours for others and asking those who are able, to work from home in limited situations." Marx said.
UHH CEO, Lisa Schnedler added, "This process has been and continues to be painful, but it is necessary to keep our staff, our patients and our community and healthy as possible. We are making these hard decisions to ensure Upland Hills Health has the resources to keep our operations going during this time of uncertainty and to enable us to come back to our full line of services when the pandemic is over."
Patient Care Staff Perspectives.
Nicole Vondra, Director of Acute Care Services at Upland Hills Health provided some insight to what it is like providing care on the hospital's patient floor right now.
"I am proud to work for a rural healthcare system that is proactively preparing for an influx of Covid-19 patients." Vondra states.
"We are faced with uncertainties, not completely knowing how rural communities will be affected by the pandemic, but our goal is to be able to provide whatever level of care is needed, whether it be supportive care or critical care.
I am especially proud to lead the Medical-Surgical and Intensive Care team, who have combined forces with the surgical nurses, nurse anesthetists, medical providers, pharmacists, and therapists to ensure our patients continue to receive high quality, safe and effective care using evidence based practices 24 hours a day.
While we are thankful to have time to prepare for what's to come, we are faced with many emotions while we wait. Most staff are selflessly agreeing to do extra hours and shifts when the time comes, knowing this will take them away from their family. Our kids homework assignments have not been our priority, and our kids are fending for themselves for meals at home. This brings additional feelings of guilt for parents on the front line.
I think the greatest common fear is that we may contract the virus and spread it to others. Some staff have made plans for their children to go stay with relatives, have made alternate plans for places to stay to protect their partners, and have had to step away from family roles such as babysitting their grandchildren, managing their elderly family members shopping and healthcare."
Vondra adds, "We appreciate the support of our family, friends, and community. We are here for you, and we are ready. We will face this, together. And when this is over, we will celebrate, together."
Brenda Kite leads social services and infection prevention initiatives at Upland Hills Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. Kite says it is emotionally very difficult to tell family and friends that they cannot visit or send gifts to their loved one.
"We miss our visitors!" Kite says. "Since visitors are being restricted, we have started a Buddy Program. This program guides staff to buddy up with a resident to provide extra Tender Loving Care (TLC). We are taking extra time to play games, visit, SKYPE with family, read stories, write letters, work on puzzles and offering prayer. So far it's been a hit! Our hallways are quieter, but we are finding creative ways to do activities, such as doorway BINGO, exercises and crafts."
Kite reassures, "Our staff are wearing masks and we are screening everyone in our building to make sure they are well. We have staff working behind the scenes to keep up on the frequent updates and recommendations being presented by the State and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as reviewing and making policies and procedures to keep everyone safe and healthy."

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