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Helena hospital sees record number of critical COVID patients, implements new protocols

St. Peter's Health
Posted at 1:51 PM, Oct 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-09 15:51:43-04

HELENA — St. Peter’s Health reported Friday, Oct. 8, they had a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations with 41 patients needing care. The statistic represents around 50 percent of the organization's acute medical care inpatient beds.

“St. Peter's does not believe the surge at the hospital is at its peak, as hospitalizations and deaths associated with COVID-19 typically lag case reporting by two to three weeks. Lewis and Clark County has reported high case numbers this week, with Tuesday's total of 132 new cases representing the highest since December 2020,” St. Peter’s Health wrote in a press release.

Lewis and Clark Public Health (LCPH) reported Friday, Oct. 8, five local long-term care / assisted living facilities are in COVID-19 outbreak status. Lewis and Clark County has added 506 new cases of COVID-19 since Oct. 1, 2021.

In an effort to respond to the surge, St. Peter’s Health is implementing additional actions so the care of patients does not waver.

The hospital is postponing and rescheduling surgeries that require an inpatient bed. The Operating Room will remain open for some outpatient and all emergent procedures. St. Peter’s says the need for postponement of procedures will be reevaluated often.

St. Peter’s is reassigning providers and staff from its outpatient clinic operations to provide hospital-based care.

St. Peter's Nurses
Victoria Fowler, a registered nurse working at St. Peter's Health, prepares medication for a patient. That would typically be done inside the patient's room, but now has to be done outside because of COVID-19 protocols.

A large tent is being set up outside the Emergency Department that will be used for patients waiting for services and at times used for the triage of patients. St. Peter’s say the tent will not be in use at all times, only as needed based on real-time volume.

The partnership with the Montana National Guard is being extended to assist with critical staffing needs as well as transitioning areas of the hospital used for outpatient procedures into inpatient rooms to prepare for more patients.

"We are doing absolutely all we can, pulling out all stops to ensure we can continue to care for our community, but we need your help," said St. Peter's Health Chief Medical Officer and President of Regional Medical Center Dr. Shelly Harkins. "As we've said over and over again, seek medical care if you need it. It is safe. But we are telling you that your experience may be different regardless of why you're seeking care. The community needs to understand that this surge has implications for our entire health system. Do not be surprised."

The new actions taken by the hospital come three weeks after the regional medical center announced they had entered crisis standards of care.

Under crisis care, hospital staff may be forced to evaluate patients in terms of which have a better chance of survival. Medication may be rationed and patients may be sent home for recovery that would normally be kept for observation should their condition worsen. St. Peter’s says crisis standards are not a flipped switch situation, but a stepped approached without official levels and different departments may be at different levels depending on the number and severity of patients they are dealing with.

St. Peter's Health: 'We are in crisis standards of care'

St. Peter's leaders implore the community to take action to slow the spread as the emotional and physical toll on caregivers and community members impacted by the virus increases.

"What we are seeing is tragic and unprecedented. The is no other way to describe it," said St. Peter's Interim Chief Nursing Officer Kari Koehler, MSN, RN. "St. Peter's staff members continue to show up each day to care for our community. We celebrate alongside families when people get better, and we celebrate the good, the healing that occurs each day. But hearts are also hurting, and we are tired. We are caring for very, very sick people. Our teams who care for COVID-19 patients on our medical floor and ICU are now losing a patient on their unit almost every day/night despite their extraordinary, collaborative efforts."

St. Peter's begs community members to take precautions like masking indoors in public, staying home when sick and keeping your world as small as possible during this surge.

Patients impacted by the new surgery protocol will be contacted directly by their surgeon's office. St. Peter’s Clinic patients that are impacted will be contacted if appointments need to be rescheduled. Patients are asked not to call to cancel appointments and do not hesitate to call and schedule an appointment.

According to Dr. Harkins, "vaccination remains our best tool to fight the continuing pandemic, save lives and ensure your local hospital can sustain all operations." St. Peter's Health reminds the community that vaccination is not 100 percent effective, underscoring the importance of continued, basic prevention measures, especially during a surge. While breakthrough cases happen, especially when the virus is so widespread, vaccination is highly effective at helping prevent hospitalization, severe illness and death.

"We don't know what else to say other than we're hurting in all the ways one can feel pain - physically and psychologically," said Koehler. "We are here to care for our community, and we are committed to caring for patients with COVID-19 and those without, but we need your help. We need you to help us get through this together by choosing kindness, taking all the precautions we've talked about for well over a year, supporting our staff and getting fully vaccinated if you're eligible."