Ontonagon community and hospital helping keep COVID-19 cases away


ONTONAGON, Mich. (WJMN) – Michigan has recorded eight more deaths linked to coronavirus and on Thursday confirmed 125 more cases of the virus, state data shows.

The figures released Friday afternoon bring the total number of deaths to 5,745 and the total number of cases to 59,621 since the outbreak began in March. Ontonagon County has contributed exactly 0 cases to the statewide total, making it the only county in the state with no confirmed COVID-19 cases.

When we spoke with the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department on Thursday, they said only about 3% of the population in Ontonagon has been tested and that their could have been asymptomatic people in the area or those who experienced minor symptoms of the coronavirus and never got tested.

On Friday, we talked with Lee Anne Jessup, Project Manager at Apirus Ontonagon Hospital and Clinic. She said it’s been a community effort to keep COVID-19 at bay and it’s been that way since the beginning.

“The first day we had to start screening people, I was the screener and you’re kind of hesitant as to how the community is going to react. I can tell you that just about every person that came in, you had a line to wait in and your six foot distancing, you apologize for the delay and everybody said thank you for doing this. So that kind of mentality in the community I think has really paid off for us. People were very appreciative. They had no hesitation to put a mask on when we asked them to. We thanked them for that and I think that also helps. The communities perception and their willingness to take these extra steps to protect themselves and their parents and grandparents,” said Jessup.

Along with a willingness to follow procedures and protocols, Jessup said the first donations from the community came within two days.

“We had woodworkers bringing in N-95 masks from their shop supply. We had a group of people in the community make and bring 50 face masks in here. We had an outpouring of people who submitted face masks, bringing in boxes of gloves and gowns. And then we did see donations of goodies brought in. The thing that strikes me the most is the first thing our community stepped up to do was bring things to us to protect us and to protect the people in our community and it was just an awesome thing to experience,” Jessup added.

Jessup said being part of the Aspirus network allowed them as a community hospital to prepare by drawing from resources outside the area and within the community. One of the first steps Aspirus Ontonagon took was listening to the community and create a COVID-19 hotline. The phone number puts you in contact with expert nurses to help people figure out whether they do need to come in or if they don’t need to come in and be tested.

COVID-19 Call Center: 1-844-568-0701


Monday – Friday 7 AM – 7 PM

Saturday and Sunday: 8 AM – 5 PM

“We’re a small community hospital so we don’t have specialists right here on our campus. So to be able to have specialists at our fingertips to contact or help work through policies and protocols put together by these specialists, that helps us so we aren’t having to go out there and do that. We have access to the experts to help us have what we need to get through and prepare,” said Jessup.

She attributed much of their success in mitigating COVID-19, not to any one individual put said everyone has stepped up. From the nurses who have focused on reading to learn protocols, working together, and testing each other. Jessup also credits the housekeepers, dietary teams and the people who help with laundry.

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done here. It’s not just the hospital and Aspirus, it’s our community members doing their part and taking care of each other. Hopefully we can keep that record. You do worry with opening up a little more and you’ve got more people coming up here to enjoy the outdoors and you’re a little on the edge wondering what will happen. For such a small facility we have an awesome team that just goes wherever they need to support whoever they need to,” said Jessup.

Aspirus has a full website dedicated to it’s COVID-19 response and resources. https://www.aspirus.org/coronavirus-covid19

Jessup said the team at Aspirus Wausau continues to work providing professional Personal Protection Equipment. As far as their community needs now, the ask is for cloth face masks. Jessup asks for the the masks with ear loops because they are easiest to manage for the elderly people, which she said is a large part of their population.

“People have big hearts in this community and they care for each other. I think people caring for other people’s parents and loved ones and really thinking about what they’re doing and how it’s going to impact mom or grandma and grandpa.”

Aspirus Ontonagon isn’t only a hospital, it also has a long-term care facility attached to it. Jessup said because of the dual function, their screening process is a little more strict. One of their challenges has been keeping the spirits up of residents who are used to regular visits from friends and family, but because of COVID-19 restrictions, have had to limit those interactions.

“The people in our nursing home have faithful family members or friends visiting daily that made their day. They aren’t as free to get out and about as other elderly people in the community. Not being able to have those visitors has been very difficult for the residents as well as the family members.

The staff has worked with residents to communicate through video calls. They also spend their days playing Bingo on an individual basis with everyone at the facility. Jessup said once again, a bright spot has come from community members.

“We had some community members offer to do singing outside with speakers around the building so they could hear the music. God gave us a beautiful day and we were able to get most of the people who could go outside, dressed and outside on a sunny day. These two community members were out there with their music and they sang for over an hour. I went out to take pictures and I never saw so many smiling faces,” said Jessup.

If you would like to brighten the day of a long term care resident at Aspirus Ontonagon, you are encouraged to send funny, cheerful cards to:

Aspirus Long Term Care

601 7th Avenue
Ontonagon, MI 49953

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