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What You Need to know about Coronavirus Testing


April 25, 2020

Home Health Care personnel: Back row: Brooke Homstad, Erin Estling & Becky Landman Front row: Nina Beito, Jill Olson, & Julie Pahlen

At LifeCare Medical Center, they implemented universal masking on Tuesday, April 14.

Meanwhile, at Altru Clinic in Roseau, they are requiring those coming in for check-ups to schedule morning appointments.

"If you're feeling sick, we recommend that you come in the afternoon," said Julie Pahlen, LifeCare Medical Center's Director of Public Health.

Been busy?

"Yes, we've been answering lots of questions and phone calls, and we are trying to make sure that the public knows what to do to prevent the spread of this disease," she said, adding that they are encouraging the public to follow Gov. Walz's mandate on good public health practices.

"It includes washing your hands often, covering your cough and sneezes, staying home when you're sick, and doing the social distancing."

She is impressed with how the public has embraced the changes due to this pandemic.

"I think our community is doing a really good job," she said, noting that if anyone is feeling sick, they should call the clinic.

"They would be triaging that on the telephone when you call for an appointment," she said.

The Masked CEO

Keith Okeson, the CEO of LifeCare Medical Center in Roseau, acknowledged a week ago Friday that the facility is complying with the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health.

"So, all of us are wearing masks as we move about the facility. For me, it's just a homemade mask because I'm not providing direct patient care," he said.

How many tests for COVID-19 have been administered?

"The last I heard there were less than 50. We do the collections here and send the specimens off for testing, either to the state lab or to Mayo. We get the results within 48 hours," he said.

Mr. Okeson acknowledged that there is an issue with testing in general.

"There has been the lack of supplies in particular. There have been shortages of these test kits, and the biggest trouble with the testing is we just can't get our hands on enough of these kits because everybody is competing for them all across the country," he said, adding that whenever there are hotspots, those are the places getting the kits.

"So, that's been a big challenge for all of us," he said.

How's your masking supply?

"We've got a good supply, truly because we haven't had a surge of patients," he said. "We have a very good supply of PPEs - masks, gloves, gowns, and face shields. But that's been a challenge all over the country."

Presently, he added, there are two ventilators on hand at LifeCare.

"If we have a critical patient that we think could have COVID or that we know has COVID, we are initially sending them to Altru in Grand Forks because they have more critical care staffing," he said, noting that if Altru Hospital in Grand Forks no longer has the capacity, these critically ill COVID-19 patients will be sent to Sanford in Bemidji.

"We have been lucky so far," he said.

With most elective procedures and surgeries now being postponed - except for when the health of the patient is in jeopardy - LifeCare has seen a decrease in revenue.

"It certainly has had a strong financial impact on us. Some facilities are laying off staff and experiencing other cuts," he said. "We haven't had to do any of those actions yet. I hope we don't, but I do worry about that down the road if this continues for any extended period of time."

Lab Director

Nima Mostofi, LifeCare's Lab Director, explained his department's role in Coronavirus testing.

"We just collect the specimens. We don't do any testing in Roseau. Testing is done by either Mayo or the Minnesota Department of Health," he said. "We package the specimens according to state and federal guidelines, and we ship them to Mayo or the Department of Health. That is the extent of our testing," said Mr. Mostofi.

Have the guidelines changed on who can or cannot be tested?

"The doctor or nurse-practitioner determines whether a person should be tested," he said, noting that there are certain criteria.

"One of the most important things is if the patient has symptoms - shortness of breath, a respiratory infection or a fever. Those are your obvious things," he said.

Additionally, he mentioned those individuals who are high risk, like nursing home residents or those who have underlying health issues.

"If you are absolutely healthy, I don't see any reason for testing, but it's totally up to the physician or healthcare provider to decide," he said.

He noted that the swabbing is done by a physician or nurses.

"What they're trying to do is to keep the contact at a minimum when collecting a specimen," he said, explaining that the specimen is then delivered to his lab.

"There are forms we have to complete on the website. We make sure it is the right specimen, and it is put into a correct transport media, which is what we call a viral transport media, which we have a great shortage of."

Presently, he noted, they are encouraging testing.

"If there are reasons to test, let's test them," he said. "We do have adequate supplies on hand. I wish we had more, but I think we're doing well for our size hospital."


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