Regional West Plays Key Role in Panhandle Wide COVID-19 Specimen Collection

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb., ― With the presence of positive COVID-19 cases in western Nebraska and the Panhandle, the need for swift and accurate testing continues to be one of the highest priorities for Regional West and the Scotts Bluff County Health Department.

For the past few weeks, Regional West has provided specimen collection efficiently with a focus on patient and staff safety, at a drive through collection site located off the main Regional West campus.

Patients who have symptoms of respiratory illness and have been seen by a provider, as well as those who have been in contact with a person diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, are referred by appointment to the drive through clinic.

At the scheduled time, the patient drives to the collection site and a Regional West nurse meets them at their car. Using a swab, the nurse collects a nasal specimen, which is then packaged for shipment to the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory in Omaha.

The decision to test a patient must be made by local health departments or individual clinicians.

“The data is demonstrating that the most accurate results occur after symptoms appear for COVID-19,” said Regional West Community Health Director Paulette Schnell, RN, MSN.

To be referred to the drive through collection site, a person must be seen by a provider at the Regional West Respiratory Clinic, located at 3011 Avenue B in Scottsbluff, or a provider with other local outpatient clinics.  Regional West conducts tests for all outpatient clinics in Scotts Bluff County.

Tests are also conducted on individuals who may have been in contact with a person with COVID-19 and residents of long-term care facilities who may be at risk of COVID-19. Respiratory specimens collected throughout the panhandle are sent to Regional West Laboratory Services for shipment to the state lab.

By utilizing nurses skilled in respiratory screening and testing to conduct all COVID-19 specimen collections at a single location, the drive through site saves personal protective equipment (PPE) resources, promotes quality specimen collection, and reduces the potential for healthy persons to be exposed to those with the illness. 

“We have nearly 20 years of experience in offering drive through flu vaccination clinics so we were able to put that experience to work in developing our drive through collection site,” said Schnell.

Schnell, who also serves as the Scotts Bluff Country health director, said the drive through site has simplified the test collection process and made it easy for her staff to collect hundreds of samples for COVID-19 testing.

“We’re doing more respiratory testing now than we’ve ever done before,” she said.

In addition to drive through COVID-19 testing, Regional West is offering virtual healthcare visits with specialists and primary care providers and has temporarily converted the Urgent Care clinic at 3011 Avenue B to a respiratory clinic. Individuals who experience cough, sore throat, and fever with shortness of breath should call 308-630-1580. Screeners will assist them in making an appointment at the respiratory clinic.

“I’m very proud of the many ways our staff has responded to the current situation by implementing and adapting to innovations to meet the healthcare needs of our communities. Their actions demonstrate that the safety of our patients and staff continues to be Regional West’s highest priority,” said John Mentgen, President and CEO, Regional West Health Services.

Regional West Health Services in Scottsbluff, Neb., is the parent company of Regional West Medical Center, a 188-bed regional referral center and one of three Level II Trauma Centers in the state. As the region’s only tertiary referral medical center, Regional West offers care that spans more than 32 medical specialties provided by over 28 physician clinics. With nearly 300 in-network providers, and 2,000 employees, Regional West provides comprehensive and innovative health care services for the people of western Nebraska and the neighboring states of Colorado, South Dakota, and Wyoming.