COOS BAY — Patients at Bay Clinic are being greeted with bright smiles that can still be seen from behind a mask, one thing that hasn’t changed since the pandemic started.
But behind those warm welcomes, these frontline workers are being impacted like everyone else as the public health crisis continues.
For Heather Huntley, the clinic’s office manager, the first changes she encountered from the virus came while it was still far away.
“I don’t know that any of us knew what it was going to look like today or tomorrow, but (the clinic) put processes in place very early,” she said of these changes. “We shut our front door and separated anyone with illness symptoms in pediatrics and adults and put limitations on guests.”
Bay Clinic limited who was allowed to join patients while they were seen by doctors. These were patients who didn’t have COVID, but other issues that still needed to be treated. Some patients are allowed one guest, depending on the appointment, or if there is a medical necessity to have a caregiver present. Huntley said those processes have helped to at least make patients more comfortable given that the area hasn’t seen an outbreak of the virus yet, other than at Shutter Creek Correctional Institution and one community case.
“We haven’t had the big spikes, we aren’t a big metropolitan area,” she said. “If you look at Eugene or Portland, we don’t function that way — we don’t have mass transit. It reduces our risk greatly. We spread early information and people have taken that to heart.”
The clinic created two separate entrances as well, one for regular patients and one for pediatrics.
“We haven’t limited the patients that wanted to be seen,” Huntley said, crediting that to the upbeat morale she’s seen in those who have come in. “…Our patients still have to be seen for issues that have nothing to do with COVID. We’re fortunate to have our group of providers who want to care for patients, who don’t limit on any means anyone who wants to be seen.”
However, the clinic’s pediatrics department followed the American Academy Pediatrics guidelines that limited well child care, which was an attempt to keep healthy children home. Huntley says those guidelines are loosening now as isolation rules loosen.
The clinic also initiated telehealth, allowing patients to see doctors or nurses from home without having to physically enter the clinic.
More immediately for Huntley, she has worked to stay on top of ever-changing guidelines while also helping make sure the clinic has the supplies it needs to operate.
“The providers are usually the most informed because they’re getting information from the hospital as well,” she said, adding that supplies have been on heavy restrictions from suppliers which has been less of a challenge than initially feared. “We’re not seeing a huge spike (in COVID-19 cases), so we’re doing okay with (supplies). There were heavy restrictions in ordering personal protective equipment and we’ve been fortunate that we’ve had enough.”
She said that the clinic has been able to partner with the local Rotary chapter, which has provided some hand sanitizer.
But of course, the pandemic has affected more than just office operations for her and her colleagues. At home, she and her husband have worked to accommodate distance learning for their 12-year-old son as schoolhouses closed to enforce social distancing and stop the potential spread of COVID-19.
“That’s the bulk of our workers (at the clinic),” Huntley said. “Kids are at home online learning with a parent while they get dinner ready once they get home. That’s been very challenging. And my heart goes out to seniors who don’t get to have the graduation experience, or the eighth-grade class who got their East Coast trip canceled. We had one employee with a college senior who missed out on the end-of-the-year celebration.”
For Huntley, her son was going to travel to New York with the local Bay Area Travel Team and play in the 12-year-old baseball tournament in Cooperstown. The trip was canceled as a result of the pandemic, which she said devastated her son.
“Baseball is his sport and that was hard not having practices,” she said. “But in the bigger picture, we have been fortunate… I think our version of ‘normal,’ as in the normal from six or eight months ago, we won’t see… I think it will be a slow transition to what life was like a year ago, but I think we are fortunate that we live in our little community where everyone has done a really great job.”
Huntley sees the clinic maintaining its new telehealth services as restrictions are lifted and highlighted the hard work of everyone at the health center who continued to do their jobs during the crisis.
“Providers want to make sure patients are taken care of and comfortable,” she said. “When we knew this wave was coming and anticipated it, there was never a discussion to close … just ‘how can we change to help our patients?’ and that speaks volumes to the partnerships here.”