Ojai’s Dr. Jim Halverson gives updates on how Ojai Valley doctors are taking care of their patients as world deals with COVID-19

Photo by Robyn Halverson
Dr. Jim Halverson of Ojai


By Marianne Ratcliff, Ojai Valley News editor

Ojai Valley doctors have new protocols as they are on the local front lines of the global pandemic that has so far been contracted by at least two Ojai residents, one Oak View resident and 98 Ventura County residents, as of Saturday, March 28.
Dr. Jim Halverson, who is one of a group of Ojai Vally primary-care physicians, spoke to the Ojai Valley News on Tuesday with updates about how local doctors are ensuring their patients are cared for during these challenging times.



Most local doctors’ offices are open full time and all are exercising extreme caution with new infection-control protocols, he said. They are seeing their regular patients, although several patients are postponing routine physicals.
Patients also have the option to check in with their doctors electronically, via their smart phone and computer apps or a simple phone call. Telemedicine, as it is called, is not a new concept, but is a way to communicate with doctors that is becoming more common as people are advised to keep 6 feet apart. “It is very practical for patients who have concerns we can address that don’t necessarily require that we have their temperature taken,” Dr. Halverson said, adding, “It is an extremely interactive option.”

When you go to see the doctor

There are other changes, as now Dr. Halverson and others who interact with patients wear masks, and all the medical office staff have their temperatures taken twice a day.
For a doctor who does not wear a white coat, or even a tie to the office — Dr. Halverson quips he does not want to give his patients “white coat blood pressure” — wearing a mask while seeing patients is new, but necessary, to protect patients and healthcare providers alike.
Patients are advised to call their doctors’ offices in advance of a visit. The front door to the office is locked, but patients are greeted by a nurse outside, who asks patients if they have a fever, respiratory symptoms or any known exposure to COVID-19.
If patients have any of those symptoms or a known exposure, they are asked to return to their car, where they have their temperature taken.
In addition, people with respiratory illnesses are seen in the afternoon and others in the morning. If people do need to be seen in person by a doctor, chairs in the waiting room are spaced apart, magazines are no longer available, and wait times are short.
Dr. Halverson said his office, for the time being, is well stocked with masks, including several donated from people who still had extras from the Thomas Fire.


Changes at hospitals

He said that there were not any COVID-19 patients at Ojai Valley Community Hospital as of March 24, but that the hospital has an emergency-bay triage tent, ventilators, and negative-pressure rooms for patients who need to be kept in isolation.
Ojai Valley Community Hospital and Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura — both Community Memorial Health System hospitals — are screening everyone who seeks entry, and visitation to all the hospitals' facilities is narrowly restricted, including patients, essential companions, doctors, staff, and essential vendors.
In addition, CMHS is holding regular morning teleconferences with doctors on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to share the latest information.
Gary K. Wilde, CEO of Community Memorial Health System, sent a memo to medical providers on March 23, explaining the protocols and letting them know that three doctors and one staff member from the hospital in Ventura had tested positive for COVID-19, that everyone they had been in contact with had been notified, and that those doctors were quarantined at home.


Staying at home matters

“One of the most important things for our community to understand is that to protect others and those on the front lines, people need to adhere to the stay-at-home orders,” Dr. Halverson said.
That means staying 6 feet apart from other customers in the grocery store, avoiding places where people congregate, whether indoors or outdoors, not playing sports that include contact with shared sports equipment such as balls or flags or such.
He said a cavalier attitude during a pandemic is dangerous, as Dr. John Fankhauser, CEO of Ventura County Medical Center and Santa Paula Hospital, can attest, having been on the front lines of the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Dr. Fankhauser has explained to his colleagues that his experience in West Africa was that people’s cavalier attitudes quickly changed when people started to die.
For the most part, however, Dr. Halverson said he is impressed that Ojai streets are empty.
Along with wearing a mask at work, Dr. Halverson is going to the market only when it is not crowded, washing his hands extensively and not attending social gatherings.
For patients who are worried they might have COVID-19, he runs through the symptoms with them, and reassures them if they don’t have a fever, shortness of breath or cough.
He said if he boils down what he does every day to one word, it is “reassurance.”
He said that does not mean sugarcoating anything. It means that “whether they have a cough, a spot or lump, shortness of breath or something truly serious, someone cares about them and that they are always taken care of.”
Reassurance for those tested for COVID-19, he said, means telling patients that, for most, the symptoms of COVID-19 are mild. COVID-19 is not cancer.”
He also reminds people who get tested for COVID-19 that a negative test does not mean they should go out and socialize because the coronavirus “is still out there.”
“For the most part, when I take the time to explain that, most people accept it,” he said. For example, that means the grandkids aren’t going to visit the grandparents and vice versa.
And, when it comes to the Ojai Performing Arts Theater play, “Harvey,” starring Dr. Halverson, that had to be postponed, the accomplished doctor and actor said he is looking forward to returning to the stage in the fall.


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