At least half of all hospital beds in 27 Montana counties are full, according to new state data released Thursday.
The state is reporting inpatient hospital beds are completely full in Lincoln County and at least 90 percent full in Yellowstone, Musselshell and Custer counties.
Statewide, most of the hospitalized patients do not have COVID-19, but public health officials and hospital administrators are warning that the recent surge of cases could overwhelm the state’s healthcare system.
Billings Clinic CEO Dr. Scott Ellner says the state’s largest not for profit health system has fewer than 20 percent of its inpatient beds open. He says he expects 150 to 200 more hospitalizations over the next two to four weeks at the current rate of COVID-19 infections.
“The numbers are just staggering that we’re seeing. The lines of people today who are waiting to get tested at our viral triage unit are definitely noticeable,” Ellner says.
He says resources, particularly staff, are stretched thin by the rise in COVID-19.
“It’s a lot more work caring for these acutely ill patients. You know, it also requires a lot more emphasis on the use of ventilators, our respiratory techs, as well as ICU level beds," he says.
With the rise in cases, Ellner says Billings Clinic has transferred patients to St. Johns United in Billings and Billings Clinic’s affiliated hospitals in Red Lodge, Columbus and Livingston.
He says the Clinic is converting areas of the hospital to increase bed capacity, constructing additional ICU space and could use operating and recovery rooms for ICU patients.
But he adds that would make it more challenging to provide care for non-COVID 19 patients -- people injured in car accidents or having heart attacks.
“If we don’t see a downward trend in new COVID-19 patients, it’s really going to sap the resources of, not only Yellowstone County but all of Montana," he says.
This week 230 health care providers signed a letter urging Montanans to do their part to flatten the curve by avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people, keeping yourself and kids home if sick and wearing a mask in public.