The number of available hospital beds, especially for children, is declining throughout Minnesota due to increased demand and the ongoing fourth wave of COVID-19 cases.
Health Commissioner John Malcolm said on Thursday that some parts of the state do not have open hospital beds with proper staff to care for patients. The number of beds available in other areas is in single digits.
“We’ve been saying since the beginning of this pandemic that our top priority is to protect the ability of our health systems to get the care people need,” Malcolm said. “Capacity is tight everywhere, including in pediatric hospital beds.”
Around 900 COVID-19 patients needing care have filled beds and more than expected with serious conditions like heart attacks and strokes. Health officials now believe the increased need for hospital care is due, in part, to people who previously postponed other care during the pandemic.
Dr Kevin Croston, CEO of North Memorial Health in Robinsdale, said it was not unusual for a hospital to discharge 100 patients a day, only to fill those beds immediately.
“It’s probably been the most challenging year I’ve experienced in my 30-plus-year career,” Croston said. “Every element of our health system is incredibly stressed. It has been around for a long time and it just keeps on building up.”
He said 75 per cent of COVID-19 patients in routine hospital beds – and 100 per cent of patients in intensive care – are without vaccination.
More people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any other time this year. The number of people needing care is almost half what it was at the peak of the state’s worst surge, in December, just before vaccines were available.
Leaders at hospitals across Minnesota say they are working together to find ways to maintain capacity and care for patients. In some cases that involves adjournment procedures.
The biggest capacity challenge for providers is staffing shortages, Croston said, something that has reached significant levels. Nationwide, health care providers are leaving the profession because of the stress of the 19-month-long pandemic.
“The employees are tired and they are working harder than ever,” he said.
Dr. Mark Gorelick, President and CEO of Children’s Minnesota, said there has been a dramatic increase in pediatric patients over the past few months. This includes an unexpected increase in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, as well as an increase in both trauma and acute mental health cases.
“We’re doing everything we can. The good news is it’s working,” Gorelik said. “It’s stressful, but we’re meeting the needs of children in the state.”
Rachel H. Schultz, President and CEO of Winona Health, said rural hospitals are facing the same capacity challenges as the Twin Cities Metro.
Schultz, Gorelik and Croston all said community members can help health care providers maintain hospital capacity by following coronavirus mitigation measures such as vaccinations, wearing masks in public and staying home when sick.
“We are here to help and we need the help of our communities to get this together,” Schultz said.