By Hugh Qualls

No rants from me this month about the need for folks to get their COVID vaccination; sadly too late to stem the current crisis. Omicron is living up to its reputation around the world—and now rampant across Mineral County. From infants and toddlers to seniors and the immunocompromised, this most-contagious of variants yet spreads far faster than cold or flu bugs. The unvaxxed/unmasked are easy targets and we are seeing them daily in the emergency room. Struggling to breathe, some have been intubated while awaiting transfer to a higher level of care.

To make this situation worse, the best help for the symptomatic is early treatment with Regeneron (monoclonal antibodies), which is now in short supply. We’ve used up our state allotment and do not expect more in the coming week. Even the new alternative treatment (Paxlovid) is hard to get these days. Sure, some of these COVID positives are fully vaccinated but they generally have mild symptoms at worst and are rarely hospitalized. Final word on today’s reality: children are truly the ones paying the price for low vaccination rates; in the past few weeks, too many babies have come through the ER doors. For the nonbelievers out there, we never saw this level of acuity (pre-pandemic) during a typical cold and flu season. COVID’s omicron strain is anything but typical.

Needless to say countermeasures have been put in place to minimize spread of the contagion. Visits to the nursing home are now restricted and must be scheduled. No visitors are allowed to accompany patients into the ER (exception being the parent of a small child). Visitors/ family members are not allowed in Clinic to help with an outpatient visit. Clinic patients are asked to remain in their vehicles in the parking lot until appointment time; please call provider office when arriving. With 24 vulnerable residents in our SNF and too many staff members at risk of catching the virus, these steps are necessary. My apologies for the temporary inconvenience but trust you agree it is warranted. Look for updates on social media. We want to get back to normal just as much as you do.

Our Infection Control Officer meets with me each workday to review the latest positive COVID cases and any preventative actions we need to take to curb the spread within the hospital (if possible). Nurse Carol Lemieux keeps meticulous records, so I am keenly aware daily of community spread and, just as importantly, staff spread of the disease. Staff out sick with virus have to quarantine a minimum of five days (longer if symptomatic) which directly impacts patient care. Over 90% of our staff is vaccinated but, as mentioned before, can still get infected and possibly spread the virus to others—despite N95 masks and other protective measures. That’s just how contagious this variant is. Again my apologies if you have to wait longer to be seen while getting care or don’t see a nurse or provider as quickly as you want but with numerous staff out sick, we are doing the best we can to provide care. Dedicated MGGH staff are human and subject to burnout/exhaustion/despair like healthcare workers everywhere these days.

Some good news. Last month I mentioned our efforts to secure grant funds for a new Physical Therapy facility. Last week, we received unofficial word that our proposal was approved for full funding. More details next month (once official and check is in hand) but the project is now underway. Sometime this summer, a 3000 sq ft PT building equipped with state-of-the-art rehabilitation equipment will open along South C Street near the hospital. Our PT teams will have the latest tools to meet just about every physical therapy need. For a remote hospital in frontier Nevada, this will be a remarkable achievement and serve our communities for years to come.