Federally Qualified Community Health Centers (FQHCs) such as Ammonoosuc Community Health Services, Inc. are no strangers to health care crises. Since 1975, we’ve handled a variety of contagious diseases beyond the traditional seasonal flu. As a home for integrated health care including, primary dental and behavioral health, FQHCs are often the first stop for ill patients, who call and visit their primary care providers (PCP) first when something just does not feel right. It is our job to be ready for whatever comes down the pike.
Despite our experience, we like everyone else, have been taken aback by the COVID19 pandemic. The real difference is the sheer volume of planning and strategy that preparing for this illness has required. Combine that with a complete change of business model, a very high contagion rate and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and you have a whole new ballgame.
ACHS has five health care sites and one dental clinic. We serve over 26 towns in northern NH and care for over 11,000 patients. When the COVID19 pandemic made its way to our state, we were already developing a plan on how we could best serve our patients, where we could see them and how we could keep both patients and staff safe.
PPE Shortage hits hard
Our incident command task force met daily, to determine our best way forward. Our first goal was to find a way to continue to care for our patient’s needs while keeping our staff out of harm’s way. This proved no easy feat when PPE was in such short supply. Each day, we struggled to locate protective equipment for our patients and the clinical team.
Community efforts and ingenuity help save the day!
Fortunately for us, we are part of an incredible community. Individuals and organizations such as Bergeon Outdoors of Lincoln, NH quickly saw our need and began making and manufacturing cloth face masks. These masks were provided to our health care team who use them in our non-COVID settings and in front of surgical masks to help extend the masks’ longevity. The masks are also distributed to our six offices for patients to wear in their visits, as well as to volunteers at the Warren-Wentworth Food Pantry. The masks became a vital part of our efforts to help stop the spread of the virus in our community and flatten the curve.
In addition, local theatre group Upstage Players worked with our providers to create a pattern for gowns that could be wiped off and reused. The gowns fashioned from vinyl tablecloths are essential as they provide an additional layer between the virus and our health care providers. Cleanable and reusable, they became the outer layer of protection for our providers who triaged COVID19 symptom patients. (See video here!)
ACHS also received a shipment of hand sanitizer from area business, Tamworth Distillery who also adapted their distillery business to help meet the needs of the community by creating alcohol-based disinfecting hand-sanitizer that worked and smelled great.
Supporting essential workers comes in many forms
With our essential staff still coming into work, many putting their lives on the line while we address this pandemic, it is key that we support them as they work to keep us all healthy. To that end, many businesses such as Chang Thai Café, Reklis Brewery, Gold House Pizza, Red Kite Candy, Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs, Mutual of America, Bethlehem Soap Company and more have donated delicious food, treats, and other items, or offered discounts for our team. For these we thank you!
As prepared as we are for COVID19, we could never be fully prepared for the amount of love and support we have received from our community. Together strong, we will get through this.
Have a cloth mask? Here’s how to wear it.