Photo by Brett Nachtigall/Fall River Herald-Star
Inside this Cabela’s outfitters tent located in the parking lot of Fall River Health Services is where someone who screens positively for the potential of COVID-19 will be treated by a provider. As of last week, no one had yet to be treated in the tent.
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – If there is one thing that could jeopardize all of the precautionary measures being taken by Fall River Health Services, it’s visitors not being 100 percent honest with their answers when they enter the parking area of the facility, where personnel are asking questions near the entrance.
“Don’t think something isn’t important, because it could be,” said Gregg Zike, P.A., as he described how dangerous it could be if a visitor doesn’t admit to feeling a certain symptom, traveling outside of the area, or acknowledging being near someone who has traveled outside of the area. He said not mentioning these things during that initial contact at the entrance could, “throw a wrench in our whole program.”
Lori Allen, who is the Director of Patient Care Services as well as the Clinic Manager for FRHS, said visitors need not to be afraid about answering the questions honestly.
“You’re not going to get turned away if you’ve been exposed, or if your husband tested positive,” Allen said. “We will get you to where you need the care to be performed.”
Allen said people’s tendency has been to sometimes not be truthful because they’re afraid to admit that they have possibly traveled outside of the county, or outside the state.
“But when they don’t tell us the truth, then that not only puts them at risk, because we’re not treating them appropriately,” Allen said. “But it also puts our staff members and other community members at risk as well. We just want people to be as open and honest as possible so that we can give them the care that they need.”
Allen and Zike gave examples of how people need to think about potential household exposures other than themselves, including from children returning home from college recently or other family members who may have traveled to other communities outside the area and been exposed.
“Just shaking your head and answering ‘no’ to every question, doesn’t give us the information that we need,” Allen said, as she emphasized how people need to be taking this pandemic seriously and the importance of them performing the initial screening properly to ensure the virus does not take over this community like it has taken over some others.
It’s important to know that one cannot simply show up to the E/R and expect to be tested for COVID-19. Anyone who is experiencing symptoms like coughing, fever or respiratory issues is asked to call first for an appointment. Medical professionals will then examine to see if your symptoms and exposure levels warrant a test.
When one enters the Fall River Health Services parking area, to either attend a scheduled appointment or for some other matter of business, you will be immediately greeted by a pair of FRHS personnel who are stationed in a tent near the entrance. The tent is manned Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m to 8 p.m., and on weekends from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The FRHS staff will be wearing a mask and will ask you a series of questions which you need to be prepared to answer with complete honesty. Questions are grouped into two different categories, including symptom related and then travel/exposure related.
The symptom questions have been fairly consistent, but the questions related to travel have been narrowed more recently as more and more COVID cases have been showing up closer to Fall River County. At one time, the questions were whether you or someone you’ve been in contact with has traveled outside of the country. That question was then narrowed to outside of the state, and most recently, they have been asking people if they have traveled outside of a 150-mile radius of Hot Springs, also to what county they have traveled.
The answers related to both symptoms and travel should not be limited to only yourself. If someone in your household or workplace has experienced symptoms of coughing, fever or difficulty breathing, that too should be noted during the screening process. If someone in your household or someone you’ve been in close contact has traveled outside a 150-mile radius of Hot Springs, that too should be noted. There are also certain counties in the state where community spread has become more prevalent. If you or someone you’ve been in contact with has traveled to one of those counties, that too should be noted.
Following the completion of the initial screening process, visitors to FRHS are then given color-coded wristbands. If you are deemed low risk – with no symptoms and no concerning travel/exposure – you are given a blue wrist band and then permitted to enter through the main doors for your prescheduled appointment in the clinic, laboratory or radiology department.
If you are considered moderate risk – by answering yes to a symptomatic or travel question or vice-versa – you will be given both a blue and a yellow wristband and also a mask to wear. You will then also usually be greeted by a FRHS staff member upon entering the facility and then escorted to your appointment.
If you are potentially high risk and a have a “positive screen” – with both symptoms and some recent travel concerns or known exposure – you will be given a yellow wristband and then also not permitted to enter the facility, but instead tested curbside for either the COVID-19 coronavirus, or possibly the flu or RSV. Not everyone with symptoms and travel concerns will automatically get a COVID-19 test, as it will all depend on the risk level determined after further screening and evaluation.
The highest risk patients are given a green wristband and then escorted into a large tent. Here, patients will be tested for COVID-19 and examined by a health professional wearing full personal protective equipment, including an N-95 mask or hood.
Allen said the tent is not a “mini-ER” but instead serves as an extension of clinic to help those patients that have positive screens and also need a little more medical attention. As of last week, the tent had not yet been used for an examination.
The test for COVID-19 involves a long swab being inserted into one of your nostrils. Local protocol for testing involves first testing for RSV and influenza, which is done by using the same sample. If those tests are positive, then the patient will be treated appropriately. If negative, then they would be sent off for further testing for COVID-19.
While the sample is taken on-site, the results of the test itself is performed and determined off-site. Allen said samples are picked up in Hot Springs by a courier service twice per day and taken to Monument Health in Rapid City, who then sends the samples to the Mayo Clinic for testing.
From March 4 through April 1, a total of 30 samples had been taken at Fall River Health with only 20 of them sent off for further COVID-19 testing. The other 10 samples were likely determined to be either RSV, influenza or some other respiratory illness.
Initially, all testing in the state was being performed in Pierre, but in recent days and weeks, the process has improved with tests being made more widely available. Depending on the severity of the patient’s risk of COVID-19, results can take up to 72 hours, Allen said.