'It's overwhelming': Minnesota healthcare workers share stresses of latest COVID surge

Staff at Methodist Hospital say the latest COVID surge is overwhelming, and they're urging more people to get vaccinated.

The latest COVID-19 numbers show that new cases are still on the rise in Minnesota. Meanwhile, the number of ICU beds filled with COVID patients is also rising.

The latest surge is having extraordinary impact on hospitals. At Methodist Hospital, it is as full as it’s ever been at any time during the pandemic - and both doctors and nurses say it shouldn’t have to be like this.

At the very place that strikes notes of compassion, another wave of COVID is testing both emotional strength and medical capacity.

"We are in the midst of what I would call another surge," said Lori Belz, the Methodist Hospital nurse manager on floor six west.

Belz pointed out the med-surg unit, saying all 28 rooms are occupied – 19 of them COVID patients.

On a floor of nearly all COVID patients, nurses now monitor a bank of oxygen sensors from a wall of monitors that resemble a small television studio. It’s one of the many medical innovations of the pandemic.

But, even with the technology and improving treatments, COVID is still a medical monster. 

"I think that’s the biggest thing I can tell you, it’s very unpredictable for each person. And we just do our best to help treat and get everybody on the road to recovery," Belz said.

Tragically, some get worse. Four floors down in the ICU, several patients are struggling for their life – and there’s barely room for more.

"Right now, we’re one bed in, one bed out. So, we’re pretty much at capacity," said Adam Karlen, ICU Clinical Nursing Director.

There are 22 ICU beds, and when FOX 9 visited, five were treating COVID patients. The surge comes as Methodist Hospital is also serving more non-COVID patients, and healthcare workers say that’s putting pressure on the entire system.

"We are seeing the hospital right now as full as it’s been really at any point in the pandemic," said Dr. Sannes, Methodist Hospital Infectious Disease Specialist.

It’s a trend at happening at hospitals across Minnesota. According to latest department of health data, there is a 7,400 bed capacity across the state. As of Friday, 6,800 beds were full. Additionally, 1,100 ICU beds were occupied, just 78 shy of total capacity.

Many of those cases are preventable.

"Really only one patient here in the ICU [is vaccinated] and that’s really been our caser this summer. We think one patient who was vaccinated who did end up on a breathing machine…all of our other COVID patients have been unvaccinated," Karlen said.  

And doctors say that’s what’s leading to the surge.

"We’re in this one right now, though, because of that last third, this virus is looking for targets. A third of the people out there are still targets," Dr. Sannes said.

That means more patients could be getting sick with COVID.

Lindsay Mastous has worked in the Methodist ICU for 19 years. She said it’s never been as emotionally draining as it is now.

"It’s traumatizing, and you think, ‘I don’t know how much I can take of this,'" she said. "The last weekend, having one death on Friday… and then I couldn't even be in the room because I was stuck in another patient's room, and this poor person died peacefully, but I couldn't even be in the room to hold his hand."

The nurses admit they’ve all had to build emotional walls to get through the surges - but even the toughest of walls develop cracks.

"I'm going home and I'm having to cry to my husband. The moment you let your guard down, you just, you feel it all - and it's overwhelming," Mastous said. "We're losing our soul. We're losing our strength to be able to keep doing this."

"I think for our staff, for their morale, it’s just so difficult to see patients dying who we think we may have been able to prevent it with the vaccine," Karlen added.

Dr. Sannes believes that they are likely to see more cases during the next two weeks, which is why he is asking those who don’t yet have their vaccine to get it now and prevent themselves from becoming a target.