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St. Scholastica could play part in COVID-19 response

Alternatives continue to be explored as hospitals brace for an influx of patients.

St. Scholastica
An aerial photo of the College of St. Scholastica campus in Duluth. (File / News Tribune)
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When the surge in COVID-19 cases comes, the College of St. Scholastica may have a role to play in treating patients, a Duluth hospital official said Thursday.

The idea of the school as a “care center” first was suggested publicly during a call among local officials, media and Sen. Amy Klobuchar Monday.

During Thursday’s weekly Essentia-St. Luke’s news conference, Dr. Nicholas Van Deelen of St. Luke’s elaborated on what that might mean.

A facility at St. Scholastica might be set up, he said, for COVID-19 patients who don’t require further hospitalization.

“They’re improving, but they can’t go home,” said Van Deelen, the chief medical officer at St. Luke’s.

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Nicholas Van Deelen

As examples, he suggested people who live in group homes or long-term care facilities because it would place other residents in danger of infection if they return prematurely.

Health care providers and the hospitality industry might help staff such a place, he said, but added that the logistics remain to be determined.

Contacted later, St. Scholastica spokesman Bob Ashenmacher said the school has been in conversations with governmental, educational and health care agencies about the role it could play. At this point, St. Scholastica hasn't been designated for use.

"We do stand ready to help," Ashenmacher said. "And the conversations are continuing."

The quartet of doctors from the two hospitals continue to agree that a surge is coming, but had differing views of when the peak might come.

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Andrew Thompson

Dr. Andrew Thompson, infectious-disease specialist at St. Luke’s, said the models he has seen show the surge hitting Minnesota in late April. But because the Northland seems to lag behind the metro area, he said, “Around late April, early May is when I would expect the greatest number of patients.”

Dr. Jon Pryor, president of Essentia Health’s East Market, agreed that a surge would come then, but said the models he’s looking at show a peak much later — around midsummer.

“But I think everyone needs to understand models,” Pryor added. “It changes all the time. … They’re just our best guess today, and they could change tomorrow.”

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Jon Pryor

An earlier surge in the Twin Cities might affect Twin Ports hospitals, Van Deelen said, because a statewide command center will send patients to where there’s room to care for them.

“We expect to be a resource for the Twin Cities, and we’re actively preparing for that eventuality,” he said.

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On other topics:

  • St. Luke’s has established a respiratory clinic at its Miller Creek Medical Clinic, Van Deelen said. It’s for patients who already have worked through the hospital’s nurse hotline or contacted primary care and need further evaluation. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Patients will remain in their cars and be checked in the parking area on the right side of the building. The idea is to protect other clinics and offices in the system from being infected.

  • Donations of homemade masks are welcome and have a variety of uses, Pryor said.

  • In addition to the 500 layoffs announced earlier this week, Essentia is reducing hours to match patient volumes and reducing work in business areas, Pryor said. Such “flexing” is not unusual, he said, but is occurring more than usual under the current situation.

  • Van Deelen said St. Luke’s has laid off additional employees beyond the seven announced last week. He couldn’t state the number, but characterized it as “small.”

  • The Minnesota Department of Health has expanded the list of criteria qualifying individuals to be tested for COVID-19, said Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, infectious-disease specialist at Essentia. The biggest addition, he said, is that testing has been extended to anyone over the age of 65, regardless of whether they have an underlying health condition.

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