Munson Healthcare continues to manage covid-19 patients, prepare for potential surge, and provide other essential care


Last week marked over two months since Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital (POMH) and the entire Munson Healthcare (MHC) system began preparing for the onset of Covid-19 in Northern Michigan. Since that time, many things have changed in the way healthcare is provided in our communities.

“At Paul Oliver, we’ve reviewed everything from the way visitors enter our buildings, to the way we clean patient rooms and the facility, and in some cases, even the location where we deliver care, with the intent of ensuring the safest possible environment for our patients” said Dr. Nancy Smith (Reye), chief medical officer for Paul Oliver Memorial Hospital and family physician at the Frankfort Medical Group.  

All Munson Healthcare hospitals, including Paul Oliver, created drive-through COVID-19 testing sites for patients that have a physician’s order and an appointment to obtain a COVID-19 test. The Emergency Department also initiated what’s referred to as a curbside triage process to evaluate patients with respiratory symptoms in their cars. 

“These processes occur outside the hospital so patients don’t have to exit their vehicle, which is best-practice for minimizing exposure to both patients and healthcare workers,” explained Smith.  

With a surge of COVID-19 testing, State of Michigan laboratories became overwhelmed, causing delays in obtaining results. To improve the turnaround time on testing, Munson Healthcare brought the test equipment utilized by the State’s testing facilities to our area, reducing turnaround time for critical patient’s results from 5-7 days to less than 12 hours.  

Since COVID-19 is a virus with no vaccine available, treatment primarily focuses on supportive care, rest, and fluids.  

“Most individuals with mild to moderate symptoms recover from the virus at home. Individuals whose condition requires hospitalization are immediately transferred to one of three Munson Healthcare hospitals:  Munson Medical Center, Munson Healthcare Grayling, or Munson Healthcare Cadillac.  Regionalizing assets provides the best approach to care and is a sound method of limiting the spread of COVID-19 and protecting the health care team,” Smith explains. “The scientific community across the globe is working to understand the virus pathology and identify alternative treatment methods. In mid-April, MHC joined an emergency Investigational New Drug (eIND) trial to collect and administer convalescent plasma to severely affected COVID-19 patients at the regional care facilities.” 

In addition, the Paul Oliver Emergency Department has readied itself, should a patient who has tested positive for COVID-19 require emergency support, while they are prepared for transfer to a regional COVID-19 care center. Paul Oliver implemented and trained the team on clinical care guidelines, procured two ventilators, and created a negative pressure hospital room, which prevents cross contamination from room to room. 

While many hospitals across the nation are experiencing shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a key area of focus is making sure all Munson Healthcare teams have access to appropriate PPE.  To accomplish this, Paul Oliver centralized its PPE supply to better manage the stock and plan for the future, implemented strategies to conserve and safely reuse PPE, and set up donation sites across the region. To-date, over 500 masks, 5,500 gloves, and 250 gowns have been collected for hospital staff at the donation sites, thanks to generous donations from community members, the Grow Benzie Fiber Shed, Days for Girls at Grow Benzie, and Benzie Bus, who collects and delivers the donated goods on a weekly basis. 

“We cannot thank our community enough for the compassion and support they have shown our health care team over the last several weeks” said Smith.  

The impact on non-emergent healthcare services due to COVID-19 that is present throughout our country is also being felt in our region, mainly through delayed or cancelled medical appointments due to closures of non-essential departments. In an effort to continue to provide care, hospitals and primary care clinics across the Munson Healthcare system are now offering virtual visits from the comfort of the patient’s home. Over 400 providers in 60 physician and physical therapy offices across the system are now offering virtual visits, including Paul Oliver’s new Frankfort Medical Group—a primary care practice that opened within the hospital on April 15th. 

“Opening a primary care clinic amidst the COVID-19 pandemic was not what we had planned. However, now, more than ever, it is important that we are here to care for our community,” said Mark Kuiper, MD, medical director of primary care for Paul Oliver. 

Through all this, protecting long-term care residents has been a priority at POMH.  

Kristi Johnson, MSN, RN, chief nursing officer at Paul Oliver explains, “we’ve all heard of the impact COVID-19 has had on long-term care units across the U.S. There is nothing more important to us than ensuring our residents are safe and healthy.  We have implemented every possible precaution to ensure COVID-19 does not make it to our unit.” 

These precautions include limiting visitors to the hospital and long-term care unit long before the executive orders to do so were in place. All hospital staff are also screened when reporting to work, including a temperature check, and wear appropriate masks to protect themselves and the residents. Residents are practicing social distancing as much as possible and engage in activities and exercise in the hallway from their doorways.

As the community becomes more anxious to return to normal, Munson Healthcare continues to work with the Governor’s office and the Michigan Hospital Association to determine when to gradually reopen services, and how to do so safely. “We look forward to bringing our services back to the community when the time is right,” said Smith.