BILLINGS - St. Vincent Healthcare officials are letting the community know that even with a rise in COVID-19 cases, bringing added stress on hospitals across the region, they have an obligation to help and serve anyone who walks through the doors of the emergency room.
That message comes on the heels of a Colstrip family who claims they had nowhere to turn except out of state when an emergency surgery was needed early last week. In fact, the family says, care was denied at a handful of major Montana hospitals, including St. Vincent and Billings Clinic.
However, Dr. Rich Lammers, the director of the emergency department at St. Vincent, says there is no way his facility can turn away care. “We cannot say, 'you know what, we're too busy, you just need to go elsewhere'."
Even at a time when COVID is stretching hospital resources thin, Lammers says specializing in emergency care is at the very heart of what this staff does. “If somebody shows up with chest pain, belly pain, having a stroke, we are obligated and able to see those patients.”
However, that wasn't the case for the Loyning family after Janelle Loyning said her husband Shawn suffered a perforated bowl last Monday. He was taken to Rosebud Health Care Center in Forsyth but needed to be transported for surgery.
“No, we can't take you, we don't have the staffing, no we can't take you; we don't have the surgeon,” said Janelle Loyning.
Janelle Loyning said her husband's doctors started calling for a patient transfer, but the Billings hospitals and the rest of Montana’s major medical facilities were all either too busy, short-staffed or diverting patients elsewhere.
She spoke to MTN News last week about the tense ordeal, at one point even calling around to hospitals out of state herself to find a place for her husband to get life-saving care. She says she called and called to no avail but finally found a spot in Cody, Wyoming.
She says Shawn came home from Wyoming Sunday after a four-hour surgery where doctors told the family he was in critical condition when he arrived. “I'm sitting here today grateful and thankful that Cody accepted him, and, that you know, his life was saved."
However, Lammers wants Montanans to know that legally and ethically they must give care to patients who walk into the doors of the hospital. He says COVID is taking a toll on healthcare workers, but his staff is there to help others heal.
“Everybody across the board, not just healthcare workers, you know, we're ready for this to be over.”
He says the impacts of COVID have forced the hospital to provide special incentives for added shifts, and in times of tight space, officials must get creative with opening new spaces for care.
But he says, they’re making it work, "overall, we're handling this well and I think we're handling it as expected."
While Lammers can’t speak to Shawn Loyning's specific situation, he says ultimately, he found care.
“There are systems in place so that when you're making those phone calls that if they can't be taken to one hospital, it's the next hospital or the next hospital, and thankfully that system worked for that patient. Thankfully Cody was able to take care of that patient,” said Lammers.
He said the bottom line patients will not be turned away if they show up at the hospital.