Minnesota hospitals strained from influx of COVID-19 patients

Two major hospital systems in Minnesota both made very public pleas Friday -- they need help slowing the spread of COVID-19.  And in one case, they need actual help in the form of workers.

CentraCare operates hospitals in central and western Minnesota, and its COVID-19 response commander did not mince words about their current situation.

"It’s terrible," said Dr. George Morris of CentraCare.  "I don’t know how to use different words at times but it is very busy. All of our facilities are overwhelmed and at capacity, and by that I mean all of our staff beds are full."

Dr. Mark Sannes, the assistant medical director of HealthPartners, which operates hospitals in the metro area, also sounded the alarm that they are now at their limits after admitting 20 new COVID-19 patients on Thursday alone.

"I think the thing that’s most striking is our hospitals were already very busy with non-COVID illness over the past two months," said Dr. Sannes.  "This additional 150 patients that we are seeing right now with COVID in the hospitals is pushing us beyond capacity.  We have 10 to 20 patients boarding who should be in the hospital who are sitting in emergency departments right now waiting for a bed to open up."

Over the last two weeks, COVID-19 cases have surged by more than 50%. Minnesota boasts a vaccination rate of more than 60%, which is higher than the national average. 

"Even though we have had a lot of folks vaccinated, we are starting to see some loss of efficacy in that older age group," said Sannes. 

Of those who are fully vaccinated, but hospitalized with COVID-19, Dr. Sannes says most are in groups that were advised - like those 65 and older or with underlying health conditions - but had not gotten a booster yet. 

He thinks this booster hesitancy, combined with the contagious Delta variant, recent Halloween gatherings, MEA weekend travel and vaccine resistance, all led to the rise in cases that has left Health Partners hospitals at 97% capacity. 

Both doctors say the majority of their patients are not vaccinated and that many of their vaccinated patients are in groups that were due for booster shots already, but did not get them.

"We still have 20 to 25 percent of the population that’s chosen not to be vaccinated against COVID-19," said Dr. Sannes.  "That’s the group that’s pushing us over the top right now."

Dr. Morris says they serve some counties in rural Minnesota where the vaccination rates are as low as 40 percent. He also says they’ve lost staff during the pandemic, some of it due to burnout, and they’re begging for workers.

"We’re looking for people that have a passion or a purpose to healthcare. And we’ll take volunteers. We’ll take all sorts of credentials and licensing. We need you."