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'This Has Been A Long Haul And We're Tired': Surge In Holiday COVID Cases Further Straining Hospitals

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The surge in holiday COVID-19 cases is showing up at some of Minnesota's already-crowded hospitals.

Right now, fewer than 30 ICU beds are available across the entire state.

John Smyrski is vice president of medical affairs at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, which is part of Allina Health. He says all 57 beds in Abbott's ICU were taken Tuesday.

"This afternoon for example … our ICU capacity was at its max," Smyrski said. "I would say these days at Abbott Northwestern it's more days than not that we are functionally full."

Dr. Deb Dittberner is chief medical officer at Alomere Health in Alexandria.

"When it's full we try to transfer patients," Dittberner said. "If we can't transfer them because of weather, because ambulances aren't available or because there's no beds, we keep them in the emergency room."

"Boarding" is when you keep a patient in the ER for an extended period of time, until a hospital bed opens up.

"That is happening at very high numbers all over the state of Minnesota," Dittberner said. "I remember when it started happening six or seven weeks ago, but it's happening more and more often."

Hospital ICU, COVID, Coronavirus
(credit: CBS)

Smyrski says it can be a day or longer where a patient is waiting for a bed to open up.

"The emergency rooms across the entire metro, even the state, are really busting at the seams," he said.

Sometimes patients are crossing state lines to find proper care.

"We receive patients from western Wisconsin, from central Iowa, as far as North Dakota because there are no beds available," Smyrski said.

Dittberner says they have sent patients to the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, and Bismarck and Fargo in North Dakota. She says COVID-19, winter storms, the holidays and fatigue among hospital staff are creating this scarcity of care.

Abbott Northwestern is delaying surgeries like hip or knee replacements in order to keep beds available.

People are working doubles, extra shifts and coming in on their days off. They also have intensivists video conferencing with other hospitals so more patients can get ICU-like care. But the daily reality inside Minnesota hospitals is harsh.

"We've been operating at our maximum capacity for quite some time now," Smyrski said. "We're a year more experienced, but we're also a year more exhausted."

"This has been a long haul and we're tired," Dittberner said.

She says she's also seeing a lot of flu cases right now. She wants to stress the importance of getting a flu shot as well as COVID-19 vaccines.


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