St. Luke CEO gives county health update

by Carolyn Hidy
Lake County Leader | March 12, 2020 9:30 AM

Steve Todd, CEO of St. Luke Community Healthcare, was guest speaker at the March 5 Ronan Chamber of Commerce meeting at Ninepipes Lodge.

Todd explained that St. Luke, Lake County’s largest private employer (453 employees) and largest healthcare provider, is a community owned nonprofit organization. He spoke of several areas of current focus for community healthcare.

St. Luke is working with schools to implement the “5-2-1-0” message for a healthy lifestyle, aiming to help reduce childhood obesity rates. The numbers stand for five or more fruits and vegetables per day; no more than two hours of recreational screen time; one or more hours of physical activity each day; and zero sugary drinks, with more water or milk instead.

Faced with “significant substance abuse” in the Mission Valley, Todd said St. Luke is seeing positive impacts integrating mental health and behavioral health in primary care and addiction treatment.

Youth sports physicals have become more personalized well-child checks, including screening for suicide risk and offering related prevention and treatment resources to families and schools.

Another area Todd reported seeing a positive impact is in helping people with supportive chronic care management outside the medical centers. Helping people with housing, food, transportation, medications, safety, and other life needs can help them stay healthier and avoid visits to the emergency room, for instance.

St. Luke, as with every healthcare facility, is gearing up to address the spread of novel coronavirus. After a state-wide conference call with all healthcare organizations, Todd said, “There is a lot of anxiety around this. We [St. Luke] currently sit in the middle between zero and high anxiety. Clinicians want to be prepared, but not panicked.”

As of last week, the State of Montana had 200 test kits available. The State was requesting medical providers screen people who had symptoms such as cough, fever and sneezing as to whether they had travelled to somewhere they could be exposed or had been exposed to a patient that had tested positive for the virus. Additionally, testing is available to rule out flu and other known diseases. If coronavirus is suspected, then they are asked to contact local and state health departments for testing.

“For the most part,” said Todd, “currently healthy people will experience symptoms similar to a cold or flu.” At higher risk of more severe symptoms are those who are immune-compromised, elderly, or have other illnesses such as diabetes, or heart or lung problems.

“The best thing we advise is good hygiene,” Todd said. “Wash your hands.” Because the virus is transmitted in droplets of saliva or mucus, precautions include maintaining a three- to six-foot “personal bubble” of distance from others in public. And “stay home if you have a cough,” he advised. “Don’t come out in public, or even to the hospital” for 14 days after exposure to the virus. Medical supplies coming from China are currently quarantined, causing a shortage in the U.S. for even such basics as gloves.

People who are sick can call in for assistance. Providers can give instructions how to get care without exposing other people to their illness. Todd recommended using the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a primary source for accurate information, as there is a lot of misinformation being spread. St. Luke will post updates and resources on their Facebook page.