Submitted by San Juan County
For being one of the smallest counties in Washington, San Juan County has a remarkably robust community healthcare network. Whether it be Emergency Medical Service (EMS) responders, or the clinics, hospital, and provider practices across the islands, a resilient and responsive group have been working incredibly hard to keep the islands safe and cared for.
We wanted to take a moment to check in with some of those who are doing so much and see how things are going.
On the EMS side, agencies from across the islands have been working together to prepare for responding to the needs of the community. This includes ensuring all first responders have the necessary supplies and equipment needed to provide care and practicing protocols that ensure minimal risk to both responders and patients. Throughout our islands, EMS staff and volunteers are serving islanders safely by practicing COVID-19 safety precautions overseen by San Juan County Medical Program Director, Dr. Joshua Corsa, in coordination with state and county health professionals and the San Juan County Emergency Operations Center.
Orcas Island Fire & Rescue Chief Scott Williams highlights these challenges, “Continuing to operate in this time of social distancing and fear of disease transmission hasn’t been easy, but we’ve been flexible and responsive and are feeling good about our operations. Training in small groups, using video chats, and relying on online courses to keep life-saving skills sharp and ready is vital.”
Like EMS, local medical providers have had to be nimble and move quickly to adapt to the fast-moving situation.
Merry-Ann Keane, the Chief Administrative Officer at PeaceHealth Peace Island Medical Center in Friday Harbor emphasizes the nature of the work, “The COVID-19 crisis presented PeaceHealth Peace Island with unprecedented challenges, but I’m incredibly proud of the dedicated approach of everyone on our team. These have not been easy times for anyone, and it has been exceptionally challenging to those working in the medical field. We’re lucky to work here in the islands, and really couldn’t ask for a better community to serve.”
Chief Williams agrees, “I just want to thank the community for their encouragement. It inspires and lifts us, which enables us to better support you. This has been a difficult situation, but amidst the challenge, there are so many opportunities for us to do good things for each other. I really want to share my appreciation to those who have shown so much kindness and gratitude.”
Another key point that your local provider community wants to share is a critical one: there is a growing concern that patients, even those with severe illnesses, are avoiding care out of fear.
Karl Kuetzing of San Juan Island EMS makes it clear, “Given the reduced number of 911 calls and transports in and out of the Emergency Department, we surmise that people are avoiding calling 911 or reaching out to their doctor for fear of putting themselves at risk, or perhaps taking resources that others might need. While we are not out of the Covid-19 woods yet, people should reach out and get treatment if they need medical help.”
PeaceHealth’s Keene strongly echoes that sentiment, “I want to encourage the public to not hesitate to seek the emergency care or care for ongoing health issues they may need. We and many other providers are able to safely conduct necessary appointments, including recommended checkups and emergency surgeries.”
These voices are from just a few of the dedicated local medical providers throughout the islands who have been working so hard through this crisis. All of our first responders and medical providers have faced unique challenges in these times of uncertainty and stress, and each of them have put enormous thought and effort into caring for the people of San Juan County.
As we move slowly towards summer and still wrestle with many challenges, please take a moment to appreciate and thank those who have been doing so much over the last couple of months. It truly is a great place to provide care.