Missoula healthcare system strained under COVID-19 surge

St. Patrick Hospital is experiencing a COVID-19 case surge
Posted at 4:25 PM, Aug 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-19 20:06:36-04

MISSOULA — Wednesday evening Missoula Mayor John Engen sent out an advisory urging vaccinations amid a COVID-19 surge.

In that advisory, Engen stated; “Our hospitals, more than a year and-a-half into the pandemic, are in the most dire situation they’ve been in to date."

According to St. Patrick Hospital Chief Physician Executive James McKay, the challenge of growing COVID-19 hospital patients is exacerbated by a limited number of available beds and staff fatigue.

“The healthcare system, all over the country and including here in Missoula, is being pushed to the limit and the concern is that we're not going to be able to care for people in a way we have been to trained to and want to because of the impact,” McKay told MTN News.

According to McKay, Montana’s first COVID-19 surge over a year ago took 60 days for cases to double statewide. The current surge doubled in just 19 days.

Right now at St. Pat's, there are 22 patients sick with COVID-19 - seven are in the Intensive Care Unit. According to McKay, more than 90% of patients admitted with COVID are not vaccinated.

St. Patrick Hospital COVID-19 intake Aug. 19, 2021

A similar story is unfolding in Kalispell. 32 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 at Logan Health, compared to 23 this time last week.

Logan Health COVID-19 intake Aug. 19, 2021

“Bottom line is not enough people have been vaccinated, where this COVID variant is two to three times more infectious than the previous variant,” McKay said.

McKay said patients are sicker compared to the first wave last year - a greater amount of patients are in the ICU that before.

"It seems like it's two different worlds we're living in, there's one here in the hospital and there's one there out in the community, and the community needs to know exactly how serious this COVID Delta variant surge is and the impact it can have on them and their families,” McKay said.

McKay referenced that about 95 percent of COVID-19 tests screened in Montana are showing up as the delta variant.

The surge is already limiting hospital functions. Right now, St. Pats is unable to admit patients from other places in what's called diversion - there's not enough resources to go around. Cutbacks on other procedures may come next.

“We are getting requests from hospitals in Idaho and Washington to try and place their patients because they're having the same issues in hospitals over there. But there are people who are really sick, who maybe need one of our ICU beds from an outlying hospital, and we're not going to be able to help those people," McKay said.

Like many industries, healthcare is experiencing a worker shortage and morale among remaining staff is low.

“That disconnect of what we're seeing here in the hospital and out in the community is really discouraging and the health care workers really need people's support now more than ever. And again, the best way to do that is to be vaccinated and take those precautions," McKay said.

Besides vaccination, disease prevention goes back to the basics. Hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing will play a role in controlling the rate of the current surge.

At MTN News we will continue to track this developing story.