St. Peter's Health explains why flattening the curve will help them treat patients

Posted at 10:51 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-24 16:24:24-04

HELENA — You've probably heard we have to flatten the curve if we are going stop the spread of COVID-19.

In epidemiology, flattening the curve is the idea of slowing the spread of a virus, so at any given time, fewer people need to get treatment, and there is space for other healthcare emergencies.

The chief medical officer at Saint Peter’s Health in Helena says the idea is vital to fighting the spread of coronavirus.

“This is not unique to St. Pete’s,” said Dr. Shelly Harkins. "Every hospital from New York to Washington is worried about the same thing.”

What they’re trying to avoid is an influx of patients who need inpatient treatment.

“When we get a surge, that surges well above capacity, that’s when we have to be very very creative,” said Harkins. “For space, for staffing, for equipment."

Part of Harkins’ job is running the numbers and preparing for the worst case scenario.

“We’re already thinking ahead,” she said. “Where would we go? What would we do?”

On any given day, St. Peter’s has 99 beds for patients at the hospital.

With their surge capacity plan currently in place, they’ve found 45 additional beds in their facilities for patients.

They’re also working with community partners like nursing homes, the VA, and schools to make a plan, in case they need even more beds.

The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates 16 percent of people infected with Covid-19 would need care for severe illness. We asked Dr. Harkins what would happen if five percent of Lewis and Clark County suddenly needed inpatient treatment.

“If five percent of our community needed inpatient care, all at the same time, we would have the challenge of our careers,” she said.

That’s why they want to flatten the curve, so they’re able to care for all who come to the hospital.

Harkins says she’s confident in the hospital’s current capabilities, but we can all do our part to keep the the hospital adequately resourced.

“What people can do to help the hospital is try to stay out of the hospital,” said Harkins. "Try not to get this virus. Wash your hands. Disinfect your surfaces. Stay away from people. Even if you’re well, try to stay home.”

According to the hospital, they have tested around 70 people in their drive-thru testing since they began.

Press release from St. Peter’s Health about additional new prevention measures:

St. Peter’s Health Expands COVID-19 Prevention Measures, Care Options

St. Peter’s Health today introduced new prevention measures and expanded care options for community members to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The measures include increased availability in the call center, virtual care appointments, expanded utilization of the screening tents, and a dedicated clinic for those seeking care for respiratory issues. The goal of these measures is to reduce risk to patients and caregivers while still delivering high-quality medical care.

What to do if you’re experiencing respiratory symptoms
COVID-19 symptoms include fever, new or worsening cough, or shortness of breath. If your symptoms are mild, St. Peter’s Health encourages people to stay at home and monitor symptoms for 14 days from symptom onset or last known contact with someone who has known or suspected COVID-19. Individuals who are self-quarantining should monitor their symptoms; isolate themselves as much as possible from other household members; not go to work, run errands or visit others; disinfect high-touch items; and practice good hand hygiene.

If symptoms are severe or worsening, there are multiple ways to access care:

Telephone Access
Patients who are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms should call their provider ahead of a visit unless they are in need of emergency medical care (call 9-1-1 or visit the Emergency Department). The provider or other medical professional will advise on appropriate next steps for care or testing. The St. Peter’s Health COVID-19 call center is also available 24/7 by calling 457-4180.

Telemedicine Virtual Care Visits
St. Peter’s Health now offers scheduled virtual care appointments for their established patients. TytoCare is an app for smartphones or tablets that allows patients to have secure audio-visual virtual exams with St. Peter’s Health providers. Patients interested in scheduling a virtual visit should contact their care team at 457-4180. More information about TytoCare telemedicine including a quick-start user guide is available on

Screening Tents
St. Peter’s Health continues to operate COVID-19 Screening and Testing tents daily from 10am-5pm in the parking lot behind the St. Peter’s Health Medical Group Building at 2550 Broadway. Patients who have a provider order or were directed by public health official can be tested for COVID-19 from their vehicle.

Respiratory Clinic
The St. Peter’s Health Urgent Care location at 2475 Broadway will be caring for patients with respiratory symptoms that need to be evaluated beyond a telephone call, virtual visit, or screening tent.

Non-Respiratory Clinics
St. Peter’s Health is asking that patients who are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms NOT visit the organization’s Broadway Clinic at 2550 Broadway or the North Clinic located at 3330 Ptarmigan Lane. This will allow these clinics to continue to safely care for patients that do not have respiratory symptoms. If you are unsure where to go, please call the clinic first.

The North Clinic Urgent Care will continue to see patients who do not have respiratory or flu-like illness or concerns. The St. Peter’s Health Orthopaedic Urgent Care is still open at 2550 Broadway to see patients with orthopaedic injuries or concerns. The Seasonal Cough, Cold and Flu Clinic is closed as of today, Monday, March 23.