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Weathering the storm: How coronavirus impacted healthcare in Dickinson

With the onset of the coronavirus came major impacts on local hospitals and healthcare. We speak with CHI St. Alexius Health's manager of mission and ancillary services to hear how changes have been for the good, such as advancements and changes to implementation of telemedicine.

John Odermann, CHI St. Alexius Health's manager of mission and ancillary services, encourages the public that the coronavirus pandemic has not changed day-to-day operations in Dickinson. By working together, Odermann believes that the coronavirus storm will surpass and if people continue to abide by the new health regulations. (Dickinson Press File Photo)

When the coronavirus pandemic slammed hospitals across the nation, the fate of healthcare rested with the heroic actions of entrenched medical personnel who quickly became the new superheroes for a generation as they battled the never ending storm brewing through ICU beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment.

John Odermann, CHI St. Alexius Health's manager of mission and ancillary services, noted that the hospital struggled sometimes throughout the coronavirus pandemic with the shortage of hospital beds. Odermann detailed the ICU bed struggles and increasing “on diversion” — or the sending of patients who needed to be hospitalized to other facilities. However, the main concern in Dickinson remained staffing and not having enough nurses to oversee and treat patients in their beds, Odermann said.

Odermann remarked that though the world changed overnight in March, in Dickinson many of the same health protocols remained intact.

“You have the cosmetic changes that occurred like mandatory masking going into effect for the majority of the year, when typically it has only been during flu season. The same goes for visitor restrictions,” he said. “One big thing that occurred early on during the pandemic was the embrace of telehealth. We invested in the technology on the clinic side and the inpatient side to help enhance our offerings in that area for our patients and their families. This is something we will continue offering after the pandemic.

“We still have the same dedicated clinical and support staff we’ve always had. They show up, mask up and go to work. They put our patients and their families first as they always have. It may look different on the surface, but behind the mask and the policies that’s what is at the heart of it. I think whatever other changes people notice are ultimately aesthetic.”


Though the world has adapted to a new normal, CHI St. Alexius Health Dickinson Medical Center still conducts its day-to-day business amid the changing paradigm. Medical personnel know which patients have COVID-19 and/or COVID-19 positive and have “the appropriate isolation precautions in place,” Odermann said.

“One substantial change is the concept of masking during things like flu season and contact tracing has become almost second hand to the general populace. Something that didn’t always make sense to people when they came in the door in the past will [now] be easier to implement,” he said.

Nevertheless, unlike some other areas that were hit hard with coronavirus cases and deaths, Dickinson had exemplary leaders to frontline the impacts of the pandemic’s storm and to date have aided Stark County in the recovery of a vast majority of 3,977 positive cases. The county suffered 45 deaths from COVID-19 since the virus’ onset.

“I truly believe thanks to our close relationship with Southwest District Health Unit, and in particular, director Sherry Adams, we were better prepared than most. Pandemic preparedness has been a standing agenda item we have discussed at our monthly ethics committee meeting for many years,” Odermann said. “Thanks to Sherry, our Senior Management Team and employee health nurse, Holly Hirning, have all been trained in Incident Command and the processes and procedures related to it so we were prepared to institute that system when the situation called for it in the spring.”

The community’s ongoing support for healthcare workers has been tremendous and it’s important for everyone to band together to combat the billows of the coronavirus, he added.

“I think the big thing we would like to express at the hospital is our gratitude to the community for their support over the last year. Whether it be pizza, donuts, meals or a whole host of things they have provided for our staff we couldn’t be more thankful for the efforts of the community to help our staff feel appreciated and valued,” he noted. “We also want to thank everyone for their continued vigilance and working to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by masking out in public and practicing social distancing.”

The rules are constantly changing and evolving to keep people safe. Odermann wants to encourage the public that the storm will succeed once people work together.

“There is a lot of fear and uncertainty out there regarding the coronavirus. It is something we all need to take seriously, but it is important for people to know that if we all work together we are going to get through this. Our staff at the hospital is ready and willing to treat anyone who comes in our doors and we’ll do our best to get them down the road to recovery and back home,” he added.


Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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