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When it comes to protecting against the threat of the Corona Virus in Fallon County, it may be time to “cowboy up.”

The rural communities may find that some of the things cowboys and ranch hands often wear are helpful protecting them against the COVID-19 threat.

Bandannas and gloves are something that can help not only on the ranches and farms in Fallon County, but also when it comes to a layer of protection against the community spread of the virus, a spokeswoman for the Fallon Medical Complex explained recently.

According to Sue Lunde, the director of nursing at Fallon Medical Complex, the facility is very prepared as far as medical supplies, medications and personal protective equipment that is used there.

“It depends on the volume (of patients) that we are going to see,” she explained. “When we have our surge and when that surge is going to be, I wish I could predict. But, right now, we are going to be screening everybody that enters the facility. We have it all locked down to two doors and everybody that enters the building is screened and visualized and checked.

“Right now, we have an adequate supply of PPEs in stock and ready to go. We are using it for any suspected cases that we are testing. We have the proper medications in stock we need for our level of care,” she said.

There are no ventilators in Baker, she said. “We do not have an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and we don’t have the means of keeping a patient at Fallon Medical because our level of care is not (there). The higher level of care is where we transfer patients to on a regular basis,” she explained, noting often that means the patients take a road trip to Billings.

“We can manage their airways... we can put the tube in…and manage their airways that way, but to keep them here on a ventilator just is not possible with the level of care we have here.”

The staff has the knowledge and expertise, she explained. “We have a very talented medical staff and nursing staff as well. “We just don’t have the equipment or the setting that will allow that to happen.”

The staff has been keeping up to date with the current status of the virus using daily briefings, she added. “We are constantly researching what is going on in the world...what has helped...what hasn’t helped and what the changes are. We are always looking for the changes that we can adapt and improve the care here at Fallon Medical. We are definitely researching, discussing and adapting as best we can,” she said.

The medical facility has negative pressure rooms which can be used to isolate patients, she said. “That is so the air doesn’t circulate into any of the other rooms, hallways or patient care areas. We also have the means to expand with extra beds.”

The critical access hospital has a total of 25 beds which includes long-term care beds, she said. “We can go over and above that 25 beds with waivers from the president.

“We have extra space that we can expand into,” she added.

Location helps protect

The rural location of Baker and Fallon County has so far helped the residents escape the impact of the COVID-19 virus, she said. “Absolutely. We could just naturally self-isolate because of our population and the amount of space between all the ranches and even in town, the space between homes. We self isolate very easily in Fallon County very naturally with our everyday life,” she said. “It definitely helped with our numbers.”

The current staffing at the medical facility is stable, she explained. “Hopefully, as the need increases, we can adapt to that as well.”

When it comes to the virus, one problem for healthcare providers is the long incubation period. “The county health nurse has a tough job in tracing down the contacts and the hows, the whens and the whys. The points of contacts can be numerous, there may be no way to start listing them all. With the long incubation period, that is tough.”

She did recommend good hand hygiene as a strong defense against the virus. “Anything you do, wash before and wash after... and in-between. Social distancing and masks …that all helps. Anywhere you go, there is the possibility of an exposure,” Lunde said. “Gloves are good protection for the touch contact with anything.

“Any type of protective gear that is available…and the easiest is the gloves and the masks…are very good at adding to the level of protection.”

She admitted that cowboys in the area already wear ‘protective’ gear. “That is what is wonderful about our part of the country. Everything we do…whether it is self-isolating with the low population. We have a lot of those things that just naturally are part of our everyday life,” she said.

Home care first

One thing that Lunde stressed was the need to stay home as much as possible for those who think they have developed symptoms. “We prefer to treat at home. We’ll keep in contact with them by phone and check their symptoms and how they are feeling.”

If people do need to come into the hospital, the staff will arrange so that they will come in through the emergency room door. “Then we will immediately isolate them,” she said before they are seen by the medical staff.

“Not everybody that is going to test positive for COVID is going to be transferred. There is only a small percentage that is going to end up on the ventilators and would have to be transferred to a higher level of care,” she said. “The vast majority of the COVIDs we are going to see will not have to be transferred. They will be treated at home.”

When it comes to the virus, everyone will present (symptoms) differently and people will need to contact their primary care providers, Lunde explained.

“We will treat anybody that presents,” she said. “Anybody that comes to the emergency room will be screened and treated.”

The (free) testing will come from the state but as far as treatment goes, that is why the facility tries to treat patients at home, she explained. “We try to use simple remedies if we can. If prescription remedies are needed, then there are costs.”

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