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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Montana Hospitals Face Staff, Bed Shortages As COVID Cases Spike

Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
Courtesy Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
Kalispell Regional Medical Center.

Montana added about 630 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, the largest single-day increase since early January. Hospitalizations are also on the rise, causing hospitals to exceed staff and bed capacity.

Logan Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Doug Nelson says the hospital in Kalispell is about to reach its all-time high for COVID-19 patients with 37 beds filled. That’s on top of all the other patients it's treating.

“And with our adult acute-care bed capacity of 126, currently we have 135 adult acute-care inpatients,” Nelson says.

That’s pushed the hospital to keep patients in its emergency room and elsewhere. There are more beds it could utilize, but staffing is becoming an issue like last fall when cases spiked. Nelson says the hospital has obtained about 80 traveling nurses and other staff to keep up.

“We would like to have more, but the availability of traveling nurses in particular across the United States is very limited right now and while we have requests out, some of them are going unfilled at this point,” he says.

A spokesperson with Benefis Health System in Great Falls says it's also exceeding bed capacity and has reopened its COVID unit, straining staff.

Head of the Montana Hospital Association Rich Rasmussen says with over 200 hospitalized COVID patients across the state, all of Montana’s larger hospitals are dealing with staffing problems.

“And so one of the things we’re going to begin talking about is looking at what we did do last fall, which was a master contract the state utilized to bring in larger numbers of medical personnel that can help us through the surge we’re experiencing right now.”

Rasmussen says the hospital association plans to formally lobby the Gianforte administration this week to bring more health care workers into the state. He says the current surge in cases and hospitalizations shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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