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. Three of Montana's six COVID-19 deaths have been Toole County residents. The estimated population is about 4,900 for Toole County.
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.
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," he siad.
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.