Pandemic continues to hit rural Minnesota hospitals hard

Itasca County health officials say there are no more open beds for critical patients, as the county deals with "crisis levels" not seen since November of 2020.

The average weekly case total in Itasca County now matches a previous peak hit last year, and officials are pleading with neighbors to take precautions as they predict cases to surpass 2020.

Beltrami, Kanebec and Wadena counties are among other greater Minnesota counties that are currently experiencing case counts that rival the previous peak reached last November.

"We are all taking care of patients who are all sicker than we normally would take care of," said Dr. Ulrika Wigert, a family medicine doctor from Sauk Centre. "It's getting really really hard."

Dr. Wigert is the physician director for CentraCare’s western region of its Rural Health Division. She says in the last six weeks, her hospital has been caring for up to 14 patients a day whereas they usually care for an average of five to six patients.

"In many ways, it's tougher now than it was a year ago," she said. "I keep thinking we’ve got to be at the peak here soon and we’re going to turn down and we’re not."

In an email, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Hospital Association said, "our statewide health system is undergoing an extreme stress test." The organization saying the sharp rise in patients is "mostly due to general increased demand, however, the steady increase in hospitalized COVID-19 cases combined with our worsening workforce crisis is resulting in a perfect storm that is extremely concerning."

In a news alert, Itasca County health officials asked residents to take necessary precautions, as hospital staffing and space is stretched to its very limits. The county reporting that there are no critical care beds left locally.

"For your own sakes, dig out your masks and limit your exposure to groups, especially indoors," said Kelly Chandler with Itasca County Public Health. "This has never been more serious."

MORE: Itasca County hospitals out of space for critical patients as COVID surges