Missoula hospital experiences overflowing waiting rooms, triaged patients

'We feel like we've been screaming this for weeks now and no one's listening.'
St Patrick Hospital
Posted at 3:16 PM, Sep 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-19 12:41:00-04

MISSOULA — Missoula County broke two COVID-19 records Thursday.

Hospitalizations rose to 46 in the county as of Thursday, surpassing the record high of 43, which was initially set in November of 2020.

The record for average daily new cases also hit a new high with 86 cases per 100,000 in the past seven days. That record was also previously set in November.

At hospitals, conditions are worsening with reports of younger and sicker patients than before.

“It's really important for people to understand that this has been going on for 18 months but right now it is here in western Montana. This is absolutely the worst it's been since this started," St. Patrick Hospital chief physician executive James McKay told MTN News.

McKay reports the St. Patrick Hospital emergency room is overwhelmed with the high volume of COVID-symptomatic patients. Exposed patients also cause growing procedural complications.

“We have also a number of patients who are on the floors who aren't COVID positive but have had exposures and so they're on quarantine," McKay said. "What that means is that we have to take the same kind of precautions as we do with COVID patients."

With overflowing waiting rooms, St. Patrick Hospital expanded into the ambulance bay with temporary clinical spaces. And based on the severity of conditions, patients are triaged.

“The concern is what we saw happen in Idaho," McKay said.

Just next door to Montana, healthcare is being rationed. As of Thursday morning, Idaho is operating a crisis standard of care statewide.

“In a nutshell, what that means is if you have three patients and you only have two beds. One patient is going to go without a bed, without appropriate treatment," McKay explained.

But that isn’t just COVID-19 patients affected- it’s people with heart attacks, strokes, and other traumas.

Another hurdle is that 56 staff members at St.Pats are currently out sick with COVID-19 or are in quarantine, further adding to the ongoing worker shortage strain.

“You know it's hard because we feel like we've been screaming this for weeks now and no one's listening," McKay said.

Despite Missoula County being vaccinated at 64%, community spread is high.

“We're lucky in Missoula County. We have one of the higher vaccination rates in the state but it's not high enough to prevent that, and then just with all the relaxation of all the preventive measures that we've had in place, that only added to that," McKay said.

Missoula County COVID-19 Incident Commander Cindy Farr elaborated on the new state laws impacting pandemic health measures.

"Part of the reason that we're in this situation is that there aren't, we're not allowed to do any mitigation practices," Farr said.

At the beginning of 2021, the Montana Legislature passed several new laws impacting the pandemic.

For example, House Bill 702 prevents vaccination exclusions for employment, events, and building entrances.

“So last year when we started experiencing a spike, we were able to limit group sizes and events and, you know, mandate masks and those were all the things that helped us to get through that spike in a matter of a couple of months, and not get as many cases as what we're seeing now. But without any of those mitigation measures, we really rely on the public to... do what they can to slow the spread of COVID," Farr said.

As cases continue to climb at unprecedented rates, officials call on the community to do what they can to reduce the severity of this surge. They ask that we get vaccinated, wear masks, and keep our social circles small.