In a normal year, fall is a busy season for Sioux Falls hospitals. This year, they’re struggling under the added weight of COVID-19.
Local hospital leaders say staff are exhausted and frustrated as they watch many continue business as usual.
As of Monday, more than half of the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are in the Sioux Falls area.
Chief Medical Officer Mike Elliott with Avera McKennan hospital confirms patients are two to a room in some cases.
“Not every room in our ICU is capable of that. Frankly we don’t have enough staff to do it in every room even if we wanted to," he explains. "But yes, that’s the reality of the situation. We’ve had to double up some rooms with some patients.”
Dr. Elliott says staff are stretched thin.
“We just don’t have enough critical care trained nurses, we don’t have enough intensivists, we don’t have enough people to take care of all of these patients that are coming in.”
But health systems are not yet bringing in National Guard members for additional staff. Dr. Mike Wilde is Chief Medical Officer for the Sanford USD Medical Center.
“We’re very conscious about how we would go about doing that, and they’ve been more than willing partners and great to work with,” says Dr. Wilde.
It’s unclear what would trigger a call to the National Guard. Dr. Wilde says Sanford is working with staffing agencies to consider other possibilities.
Dr. Elliott with Avera McKennan says care givers aren’t just exhausted. They’re frustrated.
“There’s this horrible disconnect between what they see when they walk through the halls of the hospital, when they take care of these patients, when they hold a patient’s hand as their last heartbeat occurs or their last breath occurs," says Dr. Elliott. "And then they go out into the community and they watch people gathering in masses of hundred, two hundred people not wearing their masks, not seeming to understand that this is real, folks. People are dying from this.”
Dr. Elliott says people aren’t powerless in the face of this pandemic. He says they can protect others by taking the same precautions health leaders have pointed to for months: stay six feet apart, wear a mask, wash your hands.