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Missoula ER doctors urge community to follow protocols as COVID-19 cases surge

Posted at 5:11 PM, Nov 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-30 19:11:53-05

MISSOULA — MTN News recently received a letter issued by 23 emergency physicians warning that a continued surge of COVID-19 cases could soon max out the community’s health care system.

We talked with two of those physicians who further expressed their concerns about the escalating pandemic.

Community Medical Center Physician Dr. Judson Corn, and Providence St Patrick Hospital Physician Dr. Douglas Melzer have been on the front lines of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic since it’s onset.

They say their facilities and staff are being pushed to the limit with the dramatic increase in cases over the last few weeks.

“We are really seeing that wave right now and cases are getting more and more frequent, our hospitals are more and more full," Dr. Melzer said.

“How many ICU beds do I have tonight? How many surgical/medical beds do I have tonight? Are we going to have to keep a lot of patients down in the emergency department, because we have no beds for them upstairs?” Dr. Corn added.

Dr. Corn and Dr. Melzer say their hospitals were able to come up with a good plan for housing patients early in the pandemic because community case numbers were low, but now they are struggling to find room at times, requiring them to be creative.

It’s not just facilities that are being taxed -- staff flexibility has become increasingly important. Dr. Corn says it's a matter of being able to answer the bell as questions arise.

“Are we going to have to call in a bunch of nurses, or are we going to have to call nurses that typically work in a different area of the hospital and now you’re working ICU with all that differences that come with that? Are we going to have to somehow shuffle staff from other hospitals?”

Unfortunately, as the number of community cases surges, the number of staff that are having to quarantine is rising, as well.

“We have seen more and more of our housekeeping and staff and security and doctors who are contracting the illness as well, and that really puts a lot of pressure and strain on us," Dr. Melzer told MTN News.

As for hospital patients, the impact extends well beyond COVID -19 patients themselves. Those coming in with other medical conditions are having to wait longer to be helped.

“Everything is just put in slower motion because we’re trying to be so careful to not spread disease to ourselves, not spread disease to our colleagues, to our staff, to our other patients," Dr. Corn noted.

Melzer and Corn say now is the time to bear down and do those things to keep yourself and those around you safe, and they say it really is up to us.

“Montanans, we take care of each other. And for me, there’s no difference between stopping someone on the side of the road and helping with the pandemic, and what that looks like is wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.”

Both physicians say that it is more important than ever to visit the Emergency Department if you feel like you have a medical emergency.