As one of the area's primary healthcare facilities, CHI St. Alexius Health Williston has a commitment to the community they serve. That commitment strengthened during 2020 with the onset of the pandemic, and CHI's leadership said that community focus will only get stronger in the coming year.

CHI President Dan Bjerkness sat down with the Williston Herald to talk about some of the challenges CHI faced due to the pandemic, and of the successes that arose from it.

"So much of 2020 will be remembered by COVID, and of course there's been a lot of negative," Bjerkness said. "But there has also been a lot of good. As a result, some ingenuity and ideas that probably may not have been unearthed if not for having to react to and respond to a global pandemic."

Thankfully, Bjerkness added, our region has not had some of the harsher effects as other larger cities. The pandemic did however push CHI to create new ways to deliver care. For example, CHI implemented a Respiratory Care clinic, to help separate well patients from sicker patients, or patients who may be COVID positive. From there, CHI began to offer virtual visits via Zoom for those who could not come to the hospital, which then led to extending the clinic's hours and offering Saturday visits for those unable to leave work during the day.

"They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that's kind of what happened." Bjerkness explained. "We really listened to what our patients and community were saying, and the most important thing they were saying was access to care. As we look forward to 2021, one of the things we're going to do is focus on expanding on those successes and growing that in such a way that it becomes the normal."

In addition to the measures taken to provide additional patient care, CHI also held several outreach events within the community, providing support and donations to local groups. CHI gave monetary donations for school supplies, as well as providing hand sanitizer for local teachers. While providing COVID education and resources for businesses, CHI also encouraged the state's Mask Up campaign by providing facemasks to the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce, who distributed them among their local business partners.

As a healthcare provider, Bjerkness said, it is important for CHI to remain connected to the community in such a way.

"We celebrated our centennial in October, and as we look back on our history, it was the community that brought the four Sisters of Mercy to Williston 100 years ago to set up the hospital," Bjernkess said. "It was the community that said, 'We've got your back, we are here to support you.' Fast forward 100 years as we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, the faces have changed, but that core mission of support for the community remains. The communities that we are in, we need to be there for the patients, the hospital and the people that work there."

Bjerkness noted that as CHI was working to support the community, the community was also giving back to the hospital. Donations poured in from businesses and private individuals, giving gifts of snacks, coffee, protective equipment, cleaning supplies and more. As CHI was working for the community, the community was giving right back, showing that even through adversity, compassion still had a place.

"It just goes to show that when times get tough people really do appreciate having that community hospital, and in turn they've helped us out." Bjerkness said. "There's just not enough Thank You's. There's things big and small that people did, and we just can't express our appreciation enough in extending our gratitude to the public for everything they've done."

Bjerkness said the community itself has played an important role in helping to fight the pandemic. He said the support they have shown to health care workers on the front lines has exemplified the phrase that CHI used throughout 2020, proving that while we may face hardships individually, "Together, We're Stronger."

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