Mountain Medicine: Wisdom From Above
Healthcare: On the Front Lines in Leadville Today
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today.
Mt. Elbert. Having Colorado’s tallest peak in your daily vista is not taken for granted by most who live in Leadville Today. At least once a day, most mountain dwellers will steal a glance at this giant of the 14ers. It could be a quick check of the weather to see if another winter storm is rolling in. Or perhaps it’s snowy peak against a stark Colorado blue sky is what stops you in your tracks, drawing in a breath of fresh air. Last summer, the green velvet scrub along its paths and trails was so rich and lovely, sneaking all the way up to its summit, past the timberline of Ponderosa pines.
Mountains know the secrets we need to learn. That it might take time, it might be hard, but if you just hold on long enough, you will find the strength to rise up! Tyler Knott.
While other stately peaks in this range may have a more jagged silhouette, earning their place among the Rocky Mountains, Elbert’s solid pyramid shape brings a sense of stability, especially in times like these. This 14,433’ mountain has stood stoically over The Cloud City through many challenging times. And maybe that’s a good way for Leadville to view the Coronavirus. Medical experts know the storm is coming to Leadville, they just don’t know when the snow will actually reach town or how many inches will be left behind.
“We have to assume that it’s here,” stated Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger with Rocky Mountain Family Practice (RMFP) in a March 21 interview with Leadville Today (LT). And while there have been NO positive COVID-19 test results reported in Lake County as of this post, it’s likely more a matter of when than if. Friday night as officials released the details of the two reported cases in Chaffee County, initiating a mobile healthcare unit to the neighboring southern county, Lake County became an island on the map of Colorado counties who had reported COVOD-19 cases. So far, so good.
“I really want to caution people not to focus on that,” stated Dr. Lisa as she is known locally. She is also the Chief Medical Officer for the Leadville hospital and Lake County Public Health (LCPH) Agency.
“It’s here,” she reiterated referring to COVID-19, “and you have to assume that everybody has the virus,” cautioning ALL residents to heed the warnings and orders from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Colorado health officials.
But as the storm clouds build above Mt. Elbert, medical experts, like weather forecasters are not able to pinpoint the exact time of when the snow will reach town, nor how many inches it may leave behind, but they know that the snow IS coming.
“We’re kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it will,” said Dr. Lisa who along with Dr. Gary Petry with St. Vincent Hospital are the only two doctors in Lake County.
Molehills Out of Mountains
Are city and county officials Coronavirus ready? On Friday, March 20 after weeks of waiting on an initial media inquiry from Leadville Today issued to public health officials on February 26, LCPH along with the Lake County Office of Emergency Management presented their Pandemic Plan to the public. Here is that information along with links to the documents.
In addition, the Board of County Commissioners and the City of Leadville both activated formal states of emergency last week, generating an onslaught of new regulations and orders, most coming down the pipeline from federal and state oversight agencies. While challenging, and often confusing for many small businesses from restaurants to retailers, these entrepreneurs are keeping their doors open as long as they can, providing much-needed food and drinks to the customers who stood by them in the good times.
It continues to be a moment by YouTube moment at a time. However, residents are reminded to be cautious of any pop-up solicitation requests for goods, services or money; don’t be fooled. There are trusted, giving portals in place which have institutional knowledge of where best to spend resources in Lake County during times of crisis.
Healthcare: On the Front Lines
In the meantime, Dr. Lisa’s practice hard-lined some new guidelines for healthcare visits this past week. Some of which got mixed reviews from patients. RMFP clients can now choose from five different methods in which to receive care:
- Virtual Visit. Log-in to your patent portal, make an appointment and talk face to face with your healthcare provider by computer – or your smartphone.
- Telephone Consultation. This option has now become available to Medicaid and Medicare patients. 719-486-0500.
- House Calls. Yes, the old-school house call has returned with Dr. Lisa’s staff prepared to visit patients at high risk or over 65 years of age including blood work and other services.
- Parking Lot Medicine. While this method can seem to be the most off-putting, it really does protect the patient and healthcare worker for visits which can be done while the client remains in their vehicle in the parking lot of the medical facility located at 735 Highway 24 south at the corner at McWethy Drive.
- Walk-in visits are still an option however are highly discouraged during these Coronavirus times and require a scheduled in-clinic appointment. 719-486-0500.
“We’ve received some interesting push back from these changes,” the doctor explained. “Patients will call and say they’d like an appointment and when we explain to them what their five options are, some of them have responded ‘Gosh, it doesn’t sound like you want to see us.’”
It’s no surprise that Lake County folks can be independent-minded freethinkers who don’t like to be told what to do. But in the shadow of Mt. Elbert, this challenging time – like the dozens of others – will be determined by every individual’s decision to use common sense, adhere to the guidelines and remain calm.
“People don’t seem to understand the critical nature of the situation and that it’s going to get worse. Our job as healthcare providers is to protect you, you have to trust us,” said Dr. Lisa.
Testing, Testing. What About Me?
In a press release distributed to media outlets, St. Vincent Hospital issued the following information in regard to local testing for COVID-19, which is currently being administered at the hospital and RMFP:
- Medical providers will determine when it is appropriate to test patients for COVID-19. Testing is based on scientific and fact-based criteria established by the CDC.
- St. Vincent Hospital and Rocky Mountain Family Practice are offering COVID-19 testing to patients who meet the CDC criteria. This may result in people asking for the test and being turned down. The CDC’s criteria are very thorough and following them permits us to assist in preserving resources such as test kits and laboratories for those that are sick with the Coronavirus.
- People will not be tested for COVID-19 at the general request of their employer. The CDC is not requiring COVID-19 testing for the work environment as a measure of health or wellness. If you or your employee is sick, stay home, self-isolate for 14 days and call your medical provider for advice if needed.
- Please call in advance if you are planning to come to the hospital or clinics due to concerns about COVID-19.
Neighbor Helping Neighbor
Lake County’s Chief Medical Officer also described some recent acts of kindness, like the protective gear that showed up in the practice’s mailbox or the local contractor who donated a case of N95 masks, one of the most critical pieces of safety gear for medical staff working on the front lines.
“I have never seen a healthcare system work in a more coordinated fashion than I have in these past several weeks,” the Leadville doctor concluded, reinforcing one of the most important weapons in the battle against COVID-19: confidence and transparency in local leadership.
Until next time, stay well, and as always please feel free to reach out to Leadville Today via email at email@example.com or on any of LT’s social media platforms. You are invited to share your opinions, suggestions, and comments, as always in a thoughtful, respectful manner. And if you are interested in supporting independent news through a contribution to Leadville Today, you may do so below in any amount. Thanks for your continued support.
Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, a digital media company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com.