Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Aspirus ready for potential surge


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Ironwood — With the expectation that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases will increase, medical officials are calling for calm, continued self-isolation and to call ahead before going to a hospital or clinic with coronavirus symptoms.

“We continue emphasizing how important it is for people who are experiencing symptoms to please call ahead instead of just driving to the doctor’s office,” said Chris Pogliano, M.D., chief medical officer at Aspirus Ironwood Hospital. “Aspirus has a designated call center staffed by highly skilled nurses who are there to make sure you receive the best care possible.”

The COVID-19 Testing Call Center number, 1-844-568-0701, is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. 

Oftentimes people have symptoms that can be managed at home or are related to other illnesses, Pogliano said. The center is also open to anyone with questions regardless of whether they have symptoms, he said.

“On a positive note the medical and laboratory experts are in the process of developing new, faster and more accurate screening tests and we will utilize these as soon as they become available,” Pogliano said. “In addition experts are also in the process of developing an immunization although that is a ways out at this point.”

In the meantime the community is encouraged to continue good prevention habits, he said.

While grocery shopping is a necessity people are encouraged to consider available options such as curbside pickup and limiting the number of trips to the store. Try to shop alone and not bring children or other family members along, and if not feeling well ask someone else to do the shopping.

“Continue to practice social distancing, washing hands, covering coughs and avoid touching the face,” Pogliano said.

There is and will continue to be an increase in people testing positive for COVID-19 across the country, and locally, and many people will likely know someone who is infected, he said.

“It’s important to remember that each and every one of us has the ability to stop the spread of this disease and flatten the curve, as they say,” Pogliano said. “We just need to be thoughtful, calm and employ good health habits.”

Aspirus has access to medical professionals nationwide to help guide the hospital and health system through the worldwide pandemic, he said. There are local, regional and system level meetings daily regarding surge planning to accommodate the anticipated increase of COVID-19 patients.

Aspirus has created a separate ICU ward and increased the number of ventilators by including anesthesia machines, he said. COVID-19 patient beds are in rooms where negative air pressure can filter out through separate ventilation systems to prevent the spread to other areas of the hospital.

“A lot of accommodations have been made,” Pogliano said.

The hospital, including the emergency room, and clinics, have separate areas for testing and treatment of patients with COVID-19 symptoms. This also helps prevent staff from interacting with others outside these areas.

“Our number one priority is the safety and privacy of our patients and staff members,” Pogliano said. “While we recognize there is much anxiety and concern over COVID-19 we have been working for weeks with focus and energy to ensure that Aspirus is able to provide compassionate and excellent care to our communities through this pandemic. We are prepared to do our best.”

With elective surgery and non-essential clinic appointments stopped in order to conserve resources and encourage people to stay home, Aspirus is now utilizing telemedicine, e-visits and video visits to work with the chronically ill individuals who require ongoing visits for diabetes, lung disease, heart disease and for non-essential doctor visits.

The Michigan National Guard has offered its assistance but Aspirus does not feel it is necessary at this time, Pogliano said. But they are in communication about what that assistance would be if needed.

“They certainly have offered to help,” he said. “We have looked outside the hospitals and clinics for ancillary sites that could be potentially used should the need ever arise for treatment of patients outside of the hospital.”

The COVID-19 is slow to get here because the area is relatively isolated from larger population centers, just as the influenza virus is slower to get here from the south, he said.

It doesn’t mean that it won’t get to us but if people are self-isolating at home it can only decrease the anticipated number of infected.

“I think that we all wish it would never come here but this disease is carried from one person to the other and eventually gets here,” Pogliano said. “Remember, we are safer at home.”