Come tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes, flash flooding and more, Oklahomans have proven themselves ready and capable of facing any disaster. Once again, Oklahomans have a lot to be proud of, especially during this pandemic.
While Oklahoma does not have the most public funding and has one of the highest population of uninsured, it has proved to have the fifth best health infrastructure for coronavirus in the nation according to WalletHub.
Some of the parameters for the statistics WalletHub studied in its measurement were a capable and qualified workforce, up-to-date data and information systems and agencies’ capabilities to assess and respond to public health needs.
“We are very prepared for all kinds of disasters,” AllianceHealth Woodward Chief Nursing Officer Shonda Logan said. “Because of our past, the fires, the bombing, all the things that we've lived through. I mean, as far as Oklahoma is concerned, we've just been through kind of it all.”
Logan agreed that you have to really make a dedicated choice to live out here. And if you make that choice because you love the people.
“Its just true rural Oklahoma spirit,” Shattuck Emergency Manager Patrick Godfrey said. “We all know how to come together and help one another in times of need and when the going gets tough.”
One of the biggest challenges during this pandemic is communication from authorities outside the community, according to Woodward County Emergency Management Director Matt Lehenbauer.
He said communication has been very slow on both state and federal levels.
“A lot of this is just because it's an unknown. We’re dealing with an unknown,” Lehenbauer said. “There’s even new revelations during the last week.”
Chain of command authority has been another challenge, according to Lehenbauer. In partnering with the Oklahoma Department of Health, the chain of command has been very unknown
“We don't have any local authority really on that because we're waiting on information to come in and a lot of times that's delayed,” Lehenbauer explained. “Normally on a disaster in Woodward County, we have a unified command so if it's a wildfire you know state forestry is one of the commanders, I'll be one of the commanders and then a local fire chief in whoever's fire district. So that's what's called the unified command or the Incident Command System.”
According to Lehenbauer, professionals out here are used to putting in extra hours, whether in the medical profession or in the schools and other industries, so they have an endurance for a larger workload. Workers are also usually cross-trained to cover multiple responsibilities.
“We have to do a little bit of everything and we have to put in the hours until it’s complete,” Lehenbauer said. “You don't have a specialty, because you have a wide variety of things. I may wear six hats for any disaster. Some of these physicians do above and beyond the work that is required of them or that they specialize in.”
By necessity rural Oklahoma has already had to use telemedicine and other technologies that other areas were less equipped to implement as the pandemic and restrictions set in.
“Time and time again, on even on disasters, people step in or ride alongside the first responders,” Lehenbauer said. “And fight fire, or clear roads during a snowstorm, or debris during an ice storm. And they just take it upon themselves and that makes our job a lot, a lot easier.”
About 85 percent of the total COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma have already recovered.
Lehenbauer chalks it up to just a little more common sense out in this part of the country for dealing with these types of things.