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FEMA sends clinicians to central Minn., communities hard hit by COVID-19

Wadena, Staples, Onamia and Mall of America have a team of FEMA personnel on site to help with COVID-19 staffing needs.

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WADENA — Hit by a surge of positive COVID-19 cases and the need for hospital staffing, a team of Federal Emergency Management Agency clinicians arrived for orientation training at Tri-County Health Care in Wadena on Friday.

The Minnesota Department of Health, in conjunction with FEMA, has mobilized several clinician groups across central Minnesota, a total of 16 personnel.

Tri-County Health Care serves some of the most hard hit communities in recent weeks in and around Wadena, Todd and Otter Tail counties. Just under 20 miles to the east, Lakewood Health Systems in Staples is another hospital to benefit from FEMA's response to a urgent need for staffing to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Another 70 miles to the east is Onamia, where they too are receiving help from FEMA staff. FEMA has also arrived in Bloomington, at the Mall of America, where they are administering vaccines only.

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Lakewood Health Systems also announced Friday that due to staffing needs related to the COVID-19 surge, screening colonoscopies and most EGDs (upper GI endoscopies) will be postponed until after the end of the year. There will also be reductions and potential postponements of non-emergent inpatient and outpatient surgeries, according to a LHS news release.


"Lakewood is seeing especially high numbers of patients in our Quick Care and emergency departments, as well as those admitted to the hospital," the release said. "Due to the high acuity of admitted patients, there are increases not only in the number of staff needed to care for them, but time and equipment needs as well. Because staff, especially nurses and providers, are in such high demand at this time, many will be redeployed to other areas within the facility to help with patient care needs."

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The deployed FEMA clinicians will assist staff with COVID-19 vaccination and administering monoclonal antibody treatment, according to Tri-County Health Care. It is anticipated that FEMA clinicians will be onsite until Jan. 30. They may stay longer if conditions in the area have not improved, according to TCHC communications staff member Michael Denny.

Prior to FEMA being called in, TCHC was also getting extra help in the fight from other staff members including nursing staff from other departments and administrative staff in mid-November. These staff members currently serve in non-medical roles but were trained to assist nurses with a variety of tasks in an infusion center. Their help allowed nurses to focus on patients. The infusion center is meant to keep local patients from having to seek help in larger cities.

In Wadena County on Friday, where 48.1% of those eligible have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, there were 13 new cases for an overall total of 3,060 cases in a county of about 14,000 people. The case rate in Wadena County, as of Friday, was 621.25 per 100,000, and there was a 16.17% positivity rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Neighboring TOdd County is up against similar issues with just 46.5% of those eligible receiving at least one dose.

The CDC reported four new hospital admissions in Wadena County over the last week on Friday. MDH reported Thursday, Dec. 2, one staffed adult ICU bed is available in the Central region with 1% of beds available in the region.

More than 70 percent of state residents age 5 and older have received at least one vaccination shot, with more than 71 percent now completely vaccinated. The state is also seeing progress in getting booster shots into Minnesotans who’ve already been vaccinated.

In places like Wadena and Todd counties the struggle continues to get first shots into more residents.


Tri-County Health Care. Photo courtesy Tri-County Health Care

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in the city of Verndale, Minn., but is bent on making it as country as he can until he returns once more to the farm living he enjoys. Also living the dream are his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at mjohnson@agweek.com or 218-640-2312.
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