Shortage on ICU beds in Twin Cities has ripple effect on rural Minnesota

As more hospital ICU beds fill up in the metro, it’s having a ripple effect on patient care in rural hospitals.   

Rural healthcare staff say they are scrambling to get patients in critical care the help they need fast enough because the resources are just not there. 

"Rural hospitals are designed for primary care and general surgery. They’re not designed for ICU care," said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association. 

Morgan said there’s one thing rural hospitals have in common across the country: the ability to transfer patients to larger city hospitals.   

He says rural hospitals have always lagged in adequate resources such as beds and staffing, but the recent surge in patients from the Delta variant are making things worse.  

An internal medicine doctor (who asked to conceal her identity for patient confidentiality) said rural hospital staff requesting beds are being denied.    

"We have this thing called the C4 in Minnesota: a system to try and get critical care beds to these rural places in an organized manner, and last night, they just stopped taking calls because they were so full. They had no beds," the doctor said.

For other ICU doctors in the state, not getting to patients in time has been devastating.  

"The hardest thing is just knowing that there are patients out there that we can help and they’re waiting in emergency rooms in small hospitals and can’t get the ICU care they need," Dr. Christina Bastin de Jong, who works inside the ICU at Essentia Health in St. Mary’s in Duluth.  

The National Rural Health Association says the next big push is hiring more staff and encouraging more people in rural communities to get vaccinated.  

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