POCATELLO – Southeastern Idaho Public Health (SIPH), with assistance from the Idaho State University Kasiska Division of Health Sciences and the Medical Reserve Corp of Idaho, has a COVID-19 hotline, 208-234-5875, that the public can call to get answers about the COVID-19 virus.
The SIPH hotline is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. People leaving messages outside of these hours will receive a call back during open hours. It is designed for use by Bannock, Bear Lake, Bingham, Butte, Caribou, Franklin, Oneida and Power County residents. Residents can call with questions about the virus, staying safe, or anything related to the local or national response.
“In a time when it can be challenging to get accurate information, this hotline serves as a reliable resource for people in our community.” Maggie Mann, Southeastern Idaho Public Health District director.
People calling the hotline can get general information about COVID-19. If after an initial screening they appear to have possible symptoms of COVID-19, callers can be transferred to talk with health care providers, including SIPH staff, ISU nursing students being supervised by ISU nursing faculty, other ISU health professions faculty and students, members of the Medical Reserve Corp of Idaho and other medical professionals.
ISU’s participation was encouraged and shaped by Christopher Owens, associate vice president for health sciences, who sought to align health professions students to use their expertise in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.
"The faculty and students in ISU health sciences understand that serving our community is just part of what we do,” Owens said. “This is a community-wide response and Idaho State is an important part of our community."
Owens attends the daily meetings of the SIPH Emergency Operations Center, a group made up of public health officials’, local fire chiefs, law enforcement, long-term care and other health providers, tribal officials, representatives from the business community and public-school officials. Owens was able to see first-hand the needs of these various entities and worked with the groups to identify ways that ISU students who are already trained and qualified could respond to assist.
Additionally, ISU Kasiska Division of Health Sciences has had a Memorandum of Understanding in place since 2019 with Southeastern Idaho Public Health to provide health professions students and faculty members to assist in such an emergency.
“A crisis like COVID-19 can have the effect of bringing out the best in people --and I am so proud of our health sciences students and faculty who are working alongside Southeastern Idaho Public Health to serve our community during this time of need,” Owens said.
Working together with SIPH officials, Owens and Dr. Ron Solbrig, ISU Health Center director, created a flowchart that students could use to answer questions and help guide conversations, including potential treatment action plans that would direct a caller for further testing and medical evaluation if needed. A virus symptom self-checker (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was added to their toolkit this week.
Cara Esplin, director of undergraduate studies/clinical assistant professor for the College of Nursing, believes the participation of ISU nursing students with the SIPH hotline is valuable.
“Rather than sending all of the nursing students home, they are able to help manage the pandemic to some degree by volunteering at Southeastern Idaho Public Health to answer phone calls and questions regarding COVID-19,” Esplin said. “There were four students volunteering at SIPH every day last week.. This week there are two students and a nursing faculty member volunteering there each day as well.”
Esplin said the students have reported that most of the callers have had general COVID-19 questions, while others have been referred to a health care provider for screening and in rare cases, testing for the virus. Esplin says they have in some cases helped calm callers who were initially very concerned and upset.
More information on the coronavirus is also available on the SIPH’s website, https://www.siphidaho.org/coronavirus.php.