ANGOLA — Cameron Memorial Community Hospital has been recognized for its pandemic response with a Community Impact award from the Indiana State Department of Health’s State Office of Rural Health.

Cameron was honored for its quick response to the COVID-19 pandemic, transforming Urgent Care of Cameron Hospital into a respiratory clinic and making significant changes in the hospital itself to serve the local population and inform the public about the novel coronavirus. In addition, Cameron created a COVID-19 resource line for people to call with questions about their respiratory health and advice on where to seek care.

“As someone who has been working directly with providers and patients through the state’s call center, seeing the work put in by the team at Cameron literally blew me away. The whole state is hurting right now, but with people like the staff at Cameron we can continue working to quell this epidemic and save as many people as possible,” said David Conrad, FLEX Grant coordinator for the State Office of Rural Health.

The State Office of Rural Health sought nominations for awards in a variety of categories for critical access hospitals in Indiana. Several nominations were received. Cameron was honored for Community Impact.

“When Covid hit we implemented Incident Command to develop a framework for our response. Within days, one of our top priorities was to convert our Occupational Medicine Clinic (at Urgent Care) into a respiratory clinic. We converted the HVAC to negative air flow, replaced carpet with hard services and trained staff on the appropriate infection prevention techniques and processes,” Cameron President and CEO Connie McCahill said in the hospital’s submission to the Office of Rural Health.

On Thursday, officials from Cameron and Urgent Care said the effort paid off in serving the community, particularly with Cameron’s ability to provide testing locally and all levels of care for those who were hit with cases of COVID-19.

Urgent Care went from an acute care facility, treating all sorts of ailments, to drilling down to manage mainly respiratory illnesses — particularly COVID-19 — in literally days after the pandemic hit in Indiana, said Sarah Hagen, Cameron Medical Group director.

“I think it’s been challenging. Initially we didn’t have a lot of information on COVID,” Hagen said. That meant staff constantly was reading the latest information on the disease that originated in China and has spread globally. “It was definitely a challenge.”

Flo Byerly, Urgent Care director, said care at the facility became more focused and it allowed local physicians the ability to send their patients to the respiratory clinic for specialized care they could not necessarily provide and to segregate COVID-19 patients away from others to possibly reduce the spread.

“All of the local primary care physicians were able to direct their respiratory patients to a safe location for evaluation, testing and treatment,” McCahill said.

“It’s been a real plus for the community,” Byerly said. “It’s been an entirely different process for the community.”

Urgent Care was perfectly situated to provide care specifically for COVID-19 and related illnesses.

“This provided a well-equipped and competently staffed location for the community. It allowed us to keep patients with respiratory illness segregated from patients with non-respiratory illness, and also from those needing chronic disease management,” McCahill said. “Our entire Cameron team has played an integral role in keeping COVID-19 numbers of exposures and positive cases under control and well under the state and national numbers.”

Cameron started off as the only testing facility in Steuben County, except for a three-week period in May when the state opened one of its OptumServe facilities in Angola. The state moved the unit to a neighboring county that was experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases in convalescent care facilities.

That left Cameron as the lone test site. McCahill estimated that Cameron, mainly through the respiratory clinic, to date has tested approximately 5,500 people for COVID-19. The Indiana State Department of Health, in its Thursday report, said 5,923 people had been tested in Steuben County. The state number includes data from other tests sites — Steuben residents who test in other counties that are counted in the local tally.

“An additional 1,554 patients who met criteria for testing but did not require evaluation or treatment have been tested. Our hotline has fielded over 3,000 calls providing information and assurance. Under the direction of a single physician, Dr. Charles MacLean, and the nursing leadership team of Flo Byerly and Sarah Hagen our Respiratory Clinic and Urgent Care have been the only access Steuben County residents have had to testing for Covid-19 without traveling many miles away from home,” McCahill said. “Through their efforts we were able to maintain our emergency department and medical surgical inpatient services staffed and available for the more seriously and critically ill patients.”

McCahill said the entire staff of more than 500 people at Cameron and community support from a variety of agencies and organizations “has been a beacon of care and confidence for our community.”

She said the community has rallied together to fight COVID-19.

“Steuben County and Angola have exemplified how a community can come together to meet the challenge of a historic and never-seen-before pandemic. And through it all our staff at Urgent Care and Respiratory Clinic have worked quietly, humbly, seven days a week. They are a remarkable and an amazing team and we are so proud and privileged to work with them,” McCahill said.

Awards aside, Cameron keeps working away at providing care for those with respiratory illnesses and the more traditional patient at the hospital.

“We have spent thousands of dollars, but more importantly our staff have given unselfishly countless hours to care not only for COVID patients but thousands of other patients with chronic conditions and life threatening illness,” McCahill said.

Urgent Care continues to serve in its traditional role and as a respiratory clinic. It is seeing 50-60 people a day, split almost equally between acute care and respiratory care.

“These guys have done an amazing job and they’ve done it thanklessly,” McCahill said.

And for those who need it, the respiratory care resource line is still being staffed seven days a week by healthcare professionals at Cameron. It is available from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The number is 667-5555.

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