Covid-19 Impacts Concerning in Teton County

St. John's Health operates a clinic in Lander on North First Street. Earlier this year the hospital was awarded a FCC Covid-19 telehealth.

By Paul Beaupré, MD, CEO, St. John’s Health, Jackson

The past two weeks have delivered more new developments with the COVID pandemic in Teton County. Though I am encouraged that we haven’t seen a surge of severe COVID illness, we are nonetheless experiencing some very concerning impacts in our community and at St. John’s Health.

On the bright side, the number of new COVID cases in Teton County has been lower in recent days. However, the number of new cases confirmed in the last two weeks (110) was higher than the number of new cases from the two weeks prior (100). Since the beginning of July, we have cared for 10 hospitalized COVID patients. No patients required transfer to Idaho Falls or Salt Lake City.

It’s too soon to know if we are beginning to see a trend in the right direction. However, I believe it is a sign that being responsible with our individual social behaviors can help flatten the curve.

By Paul Beaupré, MD, CEO

Unfortunately, these COVID numbers don’t paint the full picture. To date, we have been fortunate that no staff or patients have developed COVID while at St. John’s. However, as COVID has become much more prevalent in Teton County and beyond, we have not been able to prevent our staff from contracting the disease elsewhere. Four of our employees are currently COVID positive from community exposure. When we are informed that an employee has tested positive, we work closely with local and state health officials to assess the risk of exposure to others and develop plans to keep employees and patients safe. This includes self-isolation and a tracing process to identify and quarantine household members or other individuals with whom there has been close contact. Because of the high prevalence of COVID in the community, we now have 20 St. John’s Health employees who are quarantined. It is incredibly difficult to staff the hospital and clinics with this type of reduction in the size of our team.

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It is vital that St. John’s can stay open to care for those who need our care, and this relies on keeping our staff healthy and able to work. On Monday, we responded to a multiple casualty incident (MCI), which brought the passengers of three hot-air balloons that had crashed to the hospital, all within a very short time frame. All hands on deck. There could be no other way. In full PPE (personal protective equipment) to protect against the risk of COVID, staff and doctors from all areas rushed to the Emergency Department to do what we do. I can say without hesitation that St. John’s outperformed any of the well-known emergency rooms where I’ve previously worked. All the while, we cared for other patients who were delivering their babies, getting their chemotherapy, and being treated for their cardiac emergencies. It’s what you depend on us to do.

With our busy seasonal patient volumes and the extra staffing demands of our COVID nurse hotline and testing program, our incredible staff is being strained. Each member of the team is highly valuable; most of them are highly specialized. For our community and schools to be open, we need a healthy workforce. For our hospital to continue to be able to offer all of the services the community needs, we need to work together as a community to help keep our healthcare heroes healthy.

Please continue to follow state and county public health orders and recommendations. Wear your mask. Keep your social circle very small.

Thank you, and be well.

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