Health care facilities across the nation, including Marias Medical Center (MMC) and Marias Heritage Center (MHC), began emergency preparedness activities in early 2020 in anticipation of the arrival of COVID-19 in our communities. For Shelby, the reality of the pandemic began on March 25, when the first case was confirmed in Toole County.  Subsequently, contact tracing and additional testing led to additional confirmed cases, including residents and staff of Marias Heritage Center and Marias Medical Center. 

Continued surveillance, interventions and containment strategies, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, are underway for both MMC and MHC. Toole County Health Department (TCHD) and Marias Medical Center work closely together on each case, along with several other State agencies. Anyone who meets the surveillance criteria for contact with these employees will be notified by the TCHD. 

Actions taken to protect the community and the health care workforce include:

•Limited visitation at MMC and no visitation at MHC.

•Isolation and quarantine for those who are suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

•Twice daily screening of all employees for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. 

•Proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by employees and patients who enter MMC. 

•Ongoing oversight and monitoring of staff to ensure that implemented procedures, including proper PPE, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette are followed.

•Working with regional partners including the Toole County Health Department to align efforts.

•A cleaning crew has completed a deep clean of the MMC facility with continued cleaning at the Heritage Center.

•Enforcing strict PPE and isolation strategies at Marias Heritage Center to ensure residents are cared for in the best possible way.

•Collaboration with the State of Montana, TCHD, larger facilities, and other support organizations to bring the necessary infrastructure, workforce and back-up plans to ensure continued care to our community.

Unlike urban hospitals, rural facilities like MMC have unique staffing needs that require staff to often serve in multiple roles. Specifically, one staff nurse may be providing care in the emergency room, outpatient and inpatient areas all in the same day. 

A similar situation is true for support personnel, who must often fulfill several roles in the same day. The COVID-19 pandemic adds another layer of complexity to an already strained rural healthcare facility. Adding to this burden, MMC staff have had to be deployed to work and care for our most vulnerable patients who are living at the Heritage Center.  

MMC is actively recruiting staff through a variety of avenues, to work in multiple positions to ensure that we can continue to care for our community during this pandemic and prepare for a potential surge of patients. 

A regional Unified Command has been established among multiple organizations to help in the COVID-19 pandemic. This collaborative effort includes several entities along the Hi-Line in addition to larger healthcare organizations and other resources statewide. Hi-Line Unified helps align efforts and resources to meet the needs of all involved to provide care. The group also provides support to reduce duplication of work, creating a unified message for the communities while providing much needed support to one other during this time of crisis. 

Some of the immediate responses from this Unified Command for Toole County included getting cleaning personnel to MMC and National Guard resources to MHC. The commitment from entities statewide to ensure that everyone, including Toole County, perseveres through this situation is simply amazing. 

Proper equipment and supplies are a continual concern for all health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. MMC closely monitors its supply chain and inventory and has received additional supplies from the state, as well as donations from several businesses and individuals. 

The hospital launched a PPE Drive to bolster their current inventory of supplies and is grateful for the outpouring of support from the community.

Latex-free gloves, N95 face masks, other disposable facemasks, clear face shields and homemade cloth masks and gowns are needed. Community members can drop off these supplies from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Materials Management door located on the backside of the hospital and are encourages to call (406) 434-3225 or (406) 434-3209 before dropping off donations.

Community members are reminded that the best way to prevent the spread of illness is through preventive measures including:

•Washing hands thoroughly and often.

•Covering your cough.

•Avoiding touching your face.

•Staying home if you’re sick.

•Following Montana’s Stay at Home Directive.

•Reconsidering any travel outside the county.

MMC Hospital Incident Command, along with Toole County Health Department, will continue to update the community as the situation evolves. Log-on to mmcmt.org for the most up-to-date information or follow us on Facebook.

“We want to thank our community for doing their part to social distance and stay at home whenever possible to help flatten the COVID-19 curve,” said William Kiefer, MMC CEO. “We are also overwhelmed by the dedicated and overwhelming support of our staff who have given extraordinarily of their time and talents to help us continue to care for our patients and residents. We also thank our regional partners in healthcare and the Montana National Guard for working with us through this crisis.”

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