Harold Courtois, chief executive officer of Memorial Health System, updated the Abilene Rotary Club on new COVID-19 testing and other developments at the Abilene Memorial Hospital.

Testing for COVID-19 is now available at Memorial Health System

Harold Courtois, chief executive officer of Memorial Health System which operates the hospital, told the Abilene Rotary Club that a new 15 minute PCR (polymerase chain reaction) COVID-19 test is available locally.

Due to the shortage in reagents, the hospital is only testing symptomatic patients at this time. The reagents are being supplied by the state, and Abilene is not guaranteed an allocation at this time. Pre-op screens or asymptomatic exposed patients’ tests will be sent to the reference lab for testing.

According to the hospital, tests were being administred from 1 to 3 p.m. on Monday. They were expecting between 25 and 30 tests.

It is important for people to know that they cannot just drive up there, get in line, and be tested. They have to have an order from a provider sent to the hospital before they can be tested.

The hospital has three testing units.

The Cepheid Genexpert that was donated is still not being used because of a lack of reagent availability.

However, Memorial Health was able to obtain an Abbott ID Now testing unit.

“These two machines are PCR testing, the most accurate in the world,” he said. “If we get a positive, it is pretty much 100 percent a real positive and this is an important thing and we can get pretty rapid results.”

The hospital can also test for antibodies which would tell a patient if they had had COVID-19.

Increase in numbers

“We’ve seen an uptick in positives here recently,” Courtois said. “I think between Labor Day and weddings and funerals, we suddenly get this uptick in positives,” he said.

Schools at Abilene and Chapman were closed on Monday with a large of number of students being quarantined.

The Dickinson County Treasurer’s Office is also closed until at least Oct. 1.

“The thing I would caution you about is please practice social distancing and mask wearing because it does help,” he said. “We see that when people don’t do that, the result is we see the number of positives kick up.”

He said there were 13 reported positive tests in one day last week.

Courtois said the screening table at the front entrance has been removed, however the hospital is still using caution.

All staff are having temperatures checked.

“All people entering the building (hospital) must wear masks,” he said.

While the number of positive tests have increased, the number of deaths and hospitalizations have not increased.

“We are seeing higher numbers but percentage -wise we are seeing the percentage of deaths go down,” he said. “Naturally as the coronavirus makes it way around the country we’re going to see higher numbers. That’s just a natural consequence of people getting together.”

Courtois said the virus may also be weakening.

“We are still seeing serious cases, but not as many. That’s a really important thing,” he said.


“In response to the recent increase in COVID positives and quarantined individuals in our community, we have made a few changes to operating procedures for the health system. As always, this can and will change, and we will adjust our response based on what happens over the next few weeks. I think we knew this would be a start/stop/adjust type of situation, so I don’t want this to feel like March all over again – just a few small changes to help minimize or control the spread of COVID. Please email me any thoughts, ideas or questions,” said Angie Johnson, chief nurse.

Until being reassessed on Oct. 2 Memorial Health visitation include:

• MHS Med/Surg Inpatient/BHU: No visitors

• OB: One support person

• ED: One person with patients 18 and under

• HHCC/Surgery: Patient plus one

• Village Manor – no visitors at this time

• No volunteers in the building for the next 14 days

• High school students are not allowed.

The facilities continue to encourage video or socially distanced meetings.

All other departments and patient care areas will function as they have been.


Abilene Memorial Hospital has plans on getting two new physicians next year.

Courtois said the hospital is expecting a surgeon to arrive from Australia soon. Next July a physician in family medicine and OB is expected to join the staff.

“She will do a great job for us,” Courtois said. “I think the community is going to embrace her.”

Angie Johnson, chief nursing officer, reported that the wound care center is expanding to two days and the walk in clinic will expand its hours from 4 to 6 p.m. in October.

The walk in clinic at Heartland Health Care Clinic located at the hospital accepts patients from 7 to 9 a.m. without an appointment for those without acute problems.

“When kids come home at the end of the school day not feeling great and people don’t get home until 5, we will have an option here in town,” she said.

The walk in clinic had been closed for awhile during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The newly formed wound clinic is also expanding its hours to two days a week.

“I think the first day we had three patients. Now we are now up to 19 patients,” Johnson said. “So those people, instead of having to travel to Salina or Manhattan, have been able to come to our hospital. It’s just been really great.”

Johnson said the clinic started out as half a day and the plan was maybe by six months it would be open a full day.

“Nope. Now we are at two full days and it’s just been two months,” she said.

“We’ve had some pretty miraculous turnarounds in wounds,” Courtois said. “It was very much needed in Abilene.”

Dr. Bill Short is the physician in charge of the wound clinic.


Courtois said during influenza season which is coming, often the hospital has to restrict visitors.

“I think it is going to be particularly problematic this year in the fact that influenza is going to look like COVID. We are going to suspect that they have coronavirus before influenza,” he said. “We will do that test to see if they have influenza or COVID.”

Courtois said the walking trail located south of Abilene Memorial Hospital is still being updated but it is open to the public.

Contact Tim Horan at

Contact Tim Horan at

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