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Clarke County Hospital - Preparation for Moving Forward in a Pandemic

As the global pandemic of COVID-19 continues to be a concern, we had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Robert E. Weissinger, DO, Chief Medical Officer at Clarke County Hospital to share information about what the hospital has been doing to manage this health issue and how they are preparing for the future of COVID in Clarke County.

2020 saw Clarke County Hospital (CCH) moving in on a positive trajectory. Administrators and providers were feeling good about services and eager to move into the year with increased service to patients and adding more as the year progressed. But only a few months in, they were blindsided by a new challenge that most had never seen before - the Coronavirus and COVID-19. Immediately, CCH pivoted to managing COVID-19, stopping elective procedures and redefining “business as usual” to help the community. With guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the local Clarke County Public Health, and Emergency Management Services, they quickly developed plans to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, assuring the best outlook for the health, wellness, and sustainability of the community. The last thing they wanted was to have the tragic results seen in larger communities like New York City and others.

“Just because we’re in rural Iowa, it doesn’t mean we’re not at high risk.” said Dr. Weissinger. “We have Amtrak, the interstate, major industry with employees from all around the Midwest. All of these things become contingency issues as we move forward.”

Working with the Clarke County Department of Health and Clarke County Emergency Management, the team at CCH were able to address each challenge with speed and effectiveness. Local businesses and the community benefitted from establishing protocols including increased social distancing and closures to assure virus spread was kept to a minimum.

“What the real takeaway from this is that it has primed us for the next challenge,” said Dr. Weissinger. “And its provided us with the foundation for putting our heads together collaboratively to address this in the future.”

Throughout the pandemic, CCH and the clinic have taken steps to ensure patients and staff are safe when coming in for routine medical care. At the continuity care clinic, everyone is screened at the door for any signs of illness and are not allowed into the wellness clinic if they have symptoms. Patients who show symptoms are immediately quarantined and taken to a separate part of the hospital to be seen. All of the clinic staff have been tested for COVID-19 periodically, and anyone working has tested negative for the virus.

Since Governor Kim Reynolds and her advisory team gave the okay to begin easing back on COVID-19 restrictions, CCH has returned to serving patients and providing services for the community. Departments such as podiatry, oncology, orthopedics, and general surgery have been back at work, performing surgeries and procedures that were off-limits just two months ago.

Looking to the future needs of Osceola and Clarke County, CCH added and updated some necessary services. A team of well-established dermatology providers will begin seeing patients through the clinic, and the hospital is bringing in a pediatric dentist with the ability to perform operating room procedures. The ENT department now has an audiology machine that will be also be used to assist with DOT physicals and future hearing tests at the schools. And the environmental services team now has an Ultraviolet-C machine called Tru-D, that can be brought into any room that may have held a COVID-positive patient to ensure complete sterilization of the room through environmentally friendly UV light disinfection.

Dr. Weissinger cautions that the COVID-19 issue is far from over. Experts anticipate periods of surging cases, and further complications as influenza season draws closer since symptoms are similar for both influenza and COVID-19. To combat this concern, starting July 1, CCH will have the ability to run rapid COVID-19 tests in-house, boosting efficiency and timeliness of screening.

“Know that every day you go out in public, you are going to run into approximately 30% of the population that otherwise has no symptoms of COVID that could transmit that to you,” said Dr. Weissinger. “If you’re out in public, wear a mask, socially distance yourself. I can’t stress how important this is.”

As events associated with the pandemic move forward, Clarke County Hospital staff and administration stress the need for the community to stay up-to-date using credible sources. Information and best practices can be found on the hospital Web site, www.clarkehosp.org, as well as through Clarke County Health at www.clarkecountypublichealth.org.

If you have any questions about services at Clarke County Hospital or any of their affiliated clinics, please contact please contact Tom Bahls, Communication and Foundation Manager for Clarke County Hospital, 800 S Fillmore St, Osceola, IA 50213, phone: 641-342-5489, or email: TBahls@clarkehosp.org

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