Government , Health

Wahzhazhe Health Center braces for surge of patients due to COVID-19

Photo caption: A triage tent is set up outside the front doors of the Wahzhazhe Health Center in Pawhuska. Patients will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before they enter the clinic. SHANNON SHAW DUTY/Osage News

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported Osage County had its first positive case of COVID-19 on March 25.

The OSDH declined to say the location of the positive case. They also said they don’t keep track of information by county and could not say how many kits have been distributed to Osage County.

But, according to Dr. Ron Shaw, Wahzhazhe Health Center Chief Medical Officer, it was only a matter of time until there was a positive case.

“We’re just waiting for the surge,” Shaw said on March 24. “Right now, we’re only testing people with fever and symptoms of pneumonia. That’s the Tier 1 testing, high priority. If we get more tests available, then we can test more patients.”

Shaw said the health center is currently waiting on 250 test kits to arrive this week. They already have 60 test kits available. He said on March 17 they sent 8 tests for COVID-19 to the commercial laboratory they are using but have only received one test result back. It was negative. They are still waiting for the other seven results.

Due to the backlog of testing, he hopes the results will come back faster in the future. He said results should come back within 2-4 days.

The health center currently employs 65 individuals, six medical providers and 12 nurses.  

“We’re all waiting, we’re all nervous, and waiting to get the tests back. I suspect they will begin to come in this week,” he said. “We’ve had a relatively small number of people to be checked, considered for COVID-19 illness. We are treating every patient that comes through the door as though they could have it.”

A triage screening tent is set up in front of the health center to check for symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Patients are asked to wait in their vehicles until they are texted to come inside the clinic. There have been multiple preventative measures put in place throughout the clinic to protect staff.

“Right now, we have a supply of masks. We’re running low on personal protective equipment. We’ve requested gowns through the state,” Shaw said.

The health center is not equipped with the staff or equipment to administer treatment for those infected with COVID-19. Shaw said it is their job to separate the mild from moderate symptomatic patients.

In emergency cases, and if the patient can handle the trip, he will send them to Jane Phillips Medical Center in Bartlesville, which is a 30-minute car ride. “I would be afraid Pawhuska Hospital would be overwhelmed,” he said. A second option would be St. John’s Medical Center in Tulsa, which is an hour-long car ride.

“We haven’t seen the surge yet, but I don’t think Oklahoma’s seen the surge yet,” he said. “If you only have 200 cases in the state, it’s only a matter of time when we start to see more and hope we have everything in place before we see the surge. I still believe it’s going to happen.”

For more information call the Osage Nation Health Services Coronavirus Hotline at (918) 287-0028.