Through her ‘regional preparedness’ role with regional health services coalition, Bergquist is also coordinating ‘mystery patient exercises’ at health care providers in the region

    In conjunction with the Times’ interview with Polk County Public Health Director Sarah Reese about the COVID-19/coronavirus, the Times reached out to Crookston’s major health care providers, RiverView Health and Altru Clinic Crookston to see if they had information or a statement they’d like to contribute.

    Carrie Bergquist of Altru got back to the Times by press time Monday.

    “Altru Clinic is very invested in the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and response, but also remain heightened of the flu season that is certainly still active.  We are confident that we are taking appropriate measures in keeping our community and workforce safe,” she said. “Our clinical staff are following procedures directed by the CDC and state health departments in addition to extra precautions developed by our Altru Infection Prevention Team.”

    Currently Altru’s COVID-19 strategy is to identify and isolate potential patients, Bergquist explained. Upon registration, she continued, all patients undergo screening questions, including recent travel and related symptoms. (The same practice is being undertaken at RiverView Health.)

    If screening questions align with potential risk for COVID-19, patients are taken to isolated areas where staff will begin protocols for testing. This is guided by the state health department and includes using appropriate PPE and calling the health department to undergo a series of questions with the patient.

    “We continue frequent communication with our partners at the local, state and federal levels which include our health state health departments and are following their protocols and procedures for screening, and if needed, for next steps of testing patients,” Bergquist explained. “We encourage patients to call ahead if they feel they are symptomatic or at risk to aide in keeping our communities safe.”  

Scenario simulations

    Bergquist is also the regional healthcare preparedness coordinator with the Northwest Health Services Coalition. As part of her role, she says ongoing training of health care staff in the region involves “mystery patient exercises.”

    Bergquist explains how it all works:

    “The exercise assumptions and artificialities include presenting to each Emergency Department (ED) with symptoms indicating a highly contagious infection disease.  The exercise is unannounced to ensure we can evaluate in real time how frontline registration staff and clinical staff are responding to symptoms.  

    “In a nutshell, I have been presenting to each ED with symptoms of a fever, cough, and rash.  Things I look for are:  is registration staff giving me a mask, are they masking themselves, am I being triaged right away instead of being asked to sit with the rest of the patients in the waiting room, are they isolating me,  is there signage in their waiting rooms regarding covering their mouth and hand hygiene,  is the clinical staff protecting themselves by applying Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); are they using hand hygiene; what screening questions are they asking me; things like that.    

     “After the exercise, all involved staff from registration all the way to the medical provider gather for a debrief and we discuss opportunities, gaps and what we could have done better to protect staff, the patient and the other patients in the facility.  It gives them an opportunity to look at their own policies and procedures and adjust accordingly.   

    “These exercises have been extremely beneficial for our hospitals, and I strongly believe this unique hands on approach will better prepare our communities for not if, but when these symptomatic patients arrive in their ED’s.  It’s great work being done.”