Dr. Keri Lijewski shares her thoughts and perspectives about being a part of the COVID-19 response here.

If you asked me how long our lives have been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, I would tell you it feels like months. In truth, our first meeting about the drastic changes required to keep patients and staff safe in the new reality was held on March 14th. We had been discussing the possible changes coming as we saw other countries affected by COVID-19, but we did not fully understand how quickly it would change our business. Just 3 weeks later, the way we care for patients has completely changed.

Our biggest change has been the switch to primarily telephone-based care. While we work to get the technology up and running for video visits, we have come to rely heavily on phone visits to keep our patients connected with their primary care providers. We have been surprised how effective these visits have been at getting the majority of our patients what they need, while allowing them to follow the recommendations to stay at home. Due to this significant change in the way we provide care, we have temporarily changed our Ellsworth and Spring Valley locations to telemedicine only. Our staff in Ellsworth and Spring Valley continues to answer the phones to address questions and schedule telemedicine visits with those providers.

If appropriate, we offer face-to-face care Monday through Friday in River Falls from 8am-5pm. If at the time of scheduling or during the phone visit it becomes clear that a face-to-face visit would serve the patient better, the phone visit will be cancelled and arrangements can be made for an in clinic appointment. We are able to get labs drawn with minimal contact inside the clinic. Our staff is masking to protect our patients and each other from any unintended exposures. For those patients who want to see their usual primary care provider, our Ellsworth and Spring Valley physicians and physician assistant are also rotating through the in-person care in River Falls clinic.

We are exploring opportunities for patients to get routine labs for chronic disease care. Our River Falls office is open Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm for lab appointments. We plan to reopen lab services only at our Ellsworth and Spring Valley clinics later in April one day a week to accommodate lab appointments for patients for whom travel is a concern.

We are also relying heavily on our leaders throughout the MHealth Fairview system who are leading the response across the metro system, including standing up the first COVID-19 specialty hospital in our region to be prepared to provide the best care for seriously ill patients. It has made us proud to be a part of this remarkable organization.

One of the most humbling and gratifying aspects of being part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the wonderful generosity of so many in our community. We have been gifted masks, both medical grade and homemade, as well as goggles and gloves. Our staff has been offered gifts of food and services. We have been overwhelmed by how many of you have reached out to us to ask how you can help. Please know that all of it – the supplies, the gifts, and the kind words – means so much to all of us at Vibrant Health as we navigate this unprecedented time.