MISSOULA — As we enter into a known flu season, the new challenge becomes how do we manage a flu season, COVID-19 surges, and an overworked health care system.
Same day clinics and urgent care facilities -- where many people go for minor coughs, aches, and pains -- are feeling the effects with an overwhelming number of patients flooding in.
“It is very exhausting and it's frustrating because you know we all have the tools that we need to be able to get out of this pandemic,” said Missoula City-County Health Department COVID-19 Incident Response Commander Cindy Farr.
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“And we are here, and we're professionals, and we're gonna do our job, but it is really hard right now," noted Partnership Health Center Cheif Medical Officer James Quirk.
“Originally we thought this was a sprint. And this turned into a marathon, and I feel like this is...this year has turned into an ultra marathon,” Curry Health Center Director Jeff Adams told MTN News.
Missoula has been breaking COVID-19 records and there has also been an increase in the number of patients coming through the doors at area medical facilities.
“In record numbers of active cases and record numbers of new cases that are coming in and our average daily incidents over seven days is at a record high, which it feels like right now over the last few days every single day we're breaking our own record from the day previous, we are doing kind of our maximum testing for COVID Each day, which is 150 tests, a day." - Missoula COVID-19 Incident Response Commander Cindy Farr
“And we're only limited by staffing and supplies, and really how hard we can push our staff to keep working. So that's what we do we stay here and we really fill up most of the clinic by about noon," said Adams.
Urgent care facilities are seeing so many people that it can take up to hours to get in and see a doctor. “So, sitting in a busy waiting room is a concern, and you really do want to kind of weigh whether or not your risk of being there is kind of worth it,” said Quirk.
Our neighbors in Idaho have been forced to ration care, meaning they have to make hard decisions on who to treat first, and in some cases, who to save.
“And we don't want our hospitals to end up in that same situation and as we're watching our numbers continue to climb and we're breaking our records and not in a good way," Farr told MTN News.
"We're really concerned that that pressure on our health care infrastructure could begin to affect people not just for people getting treatment for COVID but any of those other things that you might need to go to the hospital for.”
The University of Montana’s Curry Health clinic is looking different this year as they are seeing more people who are coming in for not only COVID-19 related issues.
One of the biggest jumps is in people who are requesting mental health care and Adams notes those patients simply cannot wait to be seen.
“We need to see people who are having mental health crises, we can't say, we'll see in a few days, hang in there, we have to say, you need to see us now, we are going to see you now,” said Adams.
Many healthcare facilities are turning towards telemedicine, to create flexibility to see more people with less staff and keep urgent care wait times down.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of COVID-19 tests being performed daily. The correct number is 150.