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Northern Montana Health Care offering elective surgery again


Last updated 5/13/2020 at 12:34pm

This week, Northern Montana Health Care began implementing a plan to phase in elective surgery as they monitor how the COVID-19 pandemic progresses.

Dr. Kevin Harada, chief of medical staff at Northern Montana Health Care, said he hopes this plan will allow the hospital to begin offering the full breadth of elective surgeries over the next few weeks, but for now procedures are being prioritized based on several factors.

“First and foremost, when we make these decisions, our top priority is the safety of our patients,” Harada said, “… then we look at the safety of our staff, and then after that we leave it up to the providers to help prioritize the urgency of certain procedures.”

Editor’s Note: See more information on the elective surgery re-opening in Dr. Damian Ymzon’s column on page A4.

Harada said based on how Montana, and Hill County in particular, is handling the pandemic he thinks re-opening for elective surgery is safe as long as precautions are taken.

Northern Montana Health Care Public Information Officer Julianne LaSmith said all employees at the care center are wearing masks, which she said the hospital is fairly well-stocked with, and everyone who comes in the door is given a mask to wear if they don’t already have them.

She said the hospital is requesting that people not come too early, and only bring one support person, so they can avoid violating social distancing guidelines in the waiting room.

The hospital is also screening people for COVID-19 symptoms when they come in.

LaSmith said risk of exposure and recovery time are also being taken into account when deciding what kinds of procedures are getting priority.

“We’re evaluating them on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

Harada said since announcing re-opening for elective surgery an influx of people have been looking to get procedures done. But he said the hospital will need to mover slower in order to maintain social distancing and other safety measures.

“We recognize that there is a backlog, we are very cognizant of that, and we want to try to relieve that backlog, but we need to do it safely,” he said.

Harada said there is a possibility that this re-opening could be rolled back if cases in the area started to rise, or if there was a second wave of COVID-19.

“There is a scenario where yes, we would ramp back down if our patients’ safety or our staff’s safety was brought into question,” he said.

Harada said that possibility has been prepared for, but it’s too soon to tell whether this is a likely scenario.

“The optimistic side of me wants to say that with adequate testing and monitoring and tracing that we will be able to ramp back up on our phased in plan, but it’s way too early to tell,” he said.

Despite these possibilities, Harada said, he thinks the re-opening has been a success so far.

“I think it’s been going excellent,” he said.

He said the staff at Northern Montana Health Care has adjusted well, and the community has been receptive to the changes.

LaSmith said the hospital’s flu clinic is still open during the week and is also doing well.

She said the hospital still has rapid testing capabilities, and since they started introducing saline into transport mediums their capacity has nearly doubled.

She said getting quick results from the tests still depends on the state, but there have yet to be any problems with getting results back in the standard one to two days.

LaSmith said most members of staff are back in their regular departments, and she is happy that no one had to be let go during the pandemic.

“We did not furlough anyone, so we’re pretty proud of that,” she said.

LaSmith said the hospital’s staff appreciates the continued support the community.

“We really appreciate the community support with their donations and honking, and all the wonderful things they’ve done,” she said, “We really appreciate that.”


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