ICU beds near capacity in Twin Cities metro as COVID-19 impacts health care workers

As the number of COVID-19 cases increases, so does the strain on hospitals. In the Twin Cities metro, both intensive and non-intensive care beds are inching closer to full capacity.

“There is nothing harder for our caregivers than to not be able to find a bed for a patient right away,” said Helen Strike, the president of two Allina hospitals.

With the current surge of COVID-19 cases, intensive care unit capacity in the metro is currently about 98 percent. Medical and surgical bed capacity sits at 97 percent. Statewide, those numbers dip slightly and all can change by the hour.

“It is really stressful when we get a surge like this,” said Strike.

Strike is also the co-lead of the Minnesota Critical Care Coordination Center. The so-called “C-4” is the coordinated effort between health systems, constantly communicating with one another where beds are available, for both COVID and non-COVID patients. The challenge is less about the physical beds and more about enough staff to support for them.

“We may not have the number of ICU beds today as we had yesterday because we’ve had some sick calls or we’ve had people going out with emergency exposure,” said Strike.

As the Minnesota Department of Health points out, the coordination is unprecedented. Health systems are doing a lot of movement of patients within their hospitals and are also moving patients regionally. Plus, several have started to defer less time-critical services, in some cases elective surgeries.

“Some of our hospitals across Minnesota are doing one surgery to one open bed,” said Strike. “Some have paused some types of time sensitive procedures that can wait a little longer. At Allina, we are monitoring our surgeries and yes, like everyone else we may in the next few days to a week make a tough decision, but what we are trying to do is help ourselves with that decision versus having the governor have to do that for us.”

Strike says the governor's power to halt surgeries is another tool in the tool box, but not needed for now.

“It’s just really important that they be able to serve patients with all kinds of needs and not just COVID,” said MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “So we are all working very hard and need Minnesotans’ help to keep COVID from crowding out other medical conditions as well.”