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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Montana Hospitals Resuming Elective Procedures

Bozeman Health says that within a month, it will be able to analyze COVID-19 swabs on site.
Bozeman Health
Bozeman Health
Bozeman Health says that within a month, it will be able to analyze COVID-19 swabs on site.

Montana Hospitals To Resume Elective ProceduresHospitals in Montana have started performing elective procedures that had been postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Hospitals are reopening in phases with additional screenings in place.

Dr. Michael Bush with St. Vincent’s Healthcare in Billings says since they started doing elective procedures and surgeries again early last week things have been going well."We started out at between 50 or 65 percent of our normal volume of surgeries, just to make sure we weren’t going to find any lumps or bumps in the processes. And this week we’ve communicated to our surgeons that we have capacity to add even more," Bush says.

Most hospitals in Montana voluntarily stopped elective procedures in March in order to prepare for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases.

Bush says people should feel safe going to the hospital and should not hesitate to seek medical attention.

"Our surgeons tell us they’ve seen more ruptured appendixes than they’ve seen in their careers because of people delaying care," Bush says

St. Vincent's and other hospitals have strict patient screening protocols, such as checking people’s temperatures as they arrive, and rigorous cleaning guidelines. Bush says screening for illness before a procedure was common practice before the pandemic. Now providers just add a COVID-19 test to the process.

Public health officials have said they expect to see a rise in COVID-19 cases as Montana moves through Phase 1 of its reopening plan and ramps up testing capacity to meet Governor Steve Bullock’s goal of 60,000 tests per month. Bush says out of the 300 screening tests St. Vincent’s has run on elective procedure patients, only one asymptomatic case came back positive.

Kallie Kujawa, Bozeman Health’s incident command lead for COVID-19 response, says so far Bozeman’s COVID-19 screenings have not turned up any new cases.

"All of the measures that they have been taking has really paid off for our community, which allows us to venture into this moment of reopening elective procedures and elective appointments. Although we’ve labeled them not urgent or nonemergent, I think for people in their own lives these are pretty urgent matters," Kujawa says.

She credits the community for bringing what was once the state’s COVID-19 hot spot down to zero active cases.

Bozeman Health has been using different indicators, such as adequate access to tests and personal protective equipment, available in patient beds and a continued decrease in reported cases of COVID-19 to determine when it was appropriate to restart regular services at reduced capacity. It’s are now operating at about 25 percent capacity.

Dr. Kevin Harada with Northern Montana Health Care in Havre says NMHC don’t have the ability to give every patient a COVID-19 test but they are still screening everyone extensively.

"When we start opening our doors and we start opening services we are saying that we have evaluated things and we think we have the ability to keep you as the patient safe and keep our staff safe. And that’s something that we truly reevaluated on a daily basis," Harada says.

Even as hospitals expand their capacity for non coronavirus related services, Dr. Micheal Bush in Billings says continuing to practice social distancing remains critical.

"Even though Montana may be in the best situation in the country in regarding the prevalence of the disease, we still aren’t out of the woods. This is going to be a two year journey for us and we just have to be very very cautious and look at our lives and the world in a different way," Bush says.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

Jess Sheldahl is a reporter for Yellowstone Public Radio and the host of Morning Edition as well as YPR's daily news podcast, The Worm.
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