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ND only has 14 ICU beds available, but COVID-19 isn’t the main culprit

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 5:23 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - There are just 14 intensive care unit beds available in the entire state of North Dakota, according to data from the North Dakota Department of Health Monday evening. Officials say hospitalizations are continuing to surge and it’s not just because of COVID-19.

“The bed situation in North Dakota is tight. We’re not in crisis mode, but we’re tight,” Dr. Bill Heegaard, President for Essentia Health’s West Market said.

Of North Dakota’s 14 available ICU beds, eight of those are right here in the Valley: Seven in Fargo, one in Grand Forks.

“All it takes is for someone to come in from a motor vehicle accident or whatnot to fill those beds right back up. It changes literally hour to hour sometimes,” Janice Hamscher, Executive Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at Altru Health said.

Of the nearly150 patients currently in a North Dakota ICU, only around 20 percent of those patients have an active COVID-19 infection, with a few more still battling the unfortunate side-effects of the virus.

“They’re still requiring critical care and they stay a pretty long time,” Hamscher said.

The rest of those in the ICU are there for the day-to-day issues, Dr. Heegaard said.

“From just getting sick or having heart attacks, strokes. Then you add on a layer of delayed care, and they’re really sick, and then you add this other segment of COVID-19 cases and that’s why we’re in a pinch,” he said.

The tight bed space has also forced Sanford, Essentia and Altru to have to turn away both local and out-of-state patients at one point or another.

“We particularly feel committed to the people in our usual regional area, but even at times we haven’t been able to take all of those patients,” Dr. Doug Griffin, Chief Medical Officer of Sanford Health said.

“Nebraska, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas. We like to say yes, but at times, we have been full where we have not been able to take a patient,” Hamscher said.

However, all three hospitals emphasize they’re always prepared and have room for the unthinkable traumas and emergencies that may have to come through their doors.

“You always want to hold a couple beds available because you never know when there’s going to be a bus crash or anything like that and we have to be able to serve the community right away,” Heegaard said.

“We can hold some people in some other areas until beds can clear up. We can even give ICU-level of care in the emergency department. So, we have a few things we can do to manage,” Griffin said.

North Dakota continues to battle a healthcare worker shortage as well, but so far, both Altru and Sanford say it hasn’t played a major role in impacting ICU bed capacity.

All three providers say they urge North Dakotans and Minnesotans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to keep bed space open for the many other traumas and medical needs in the community.

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