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Billings hospitals officials say they're handling increase in COVID cases

Posted at 11:02 PM, Oct 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-10 15:00:00-04

St. Vincent Healthcare and Billings Clinic staff have been stretched and stressed by COVID-19, but doctors said Thursday they are handling the challenge of treating patients.

Hospitals in Yellowstone County are at 90 percent capacity, but they do have enough beds and protocols to handle increased need for medical help.

"Billings Clinic is still being pushed for capacity, but I will tell you that we will find a way to provide beds," said Dr. Scott Ellner, Billings Clinic CEO.

"From an emergency room standpoint, what we specialize in is dealing with things when they blow up," said. Dr. Rich Lammers, St. Vincent medical director and emergency department chair. "How do we do this? What's already in place to be able to attack it, to be able to take care of things? That's something we do as an emergency department every day outside of having to deal with COVID."

The doctors talked about the effect on their staffs.

"The care that the patients are receiving continues to be exceptional," Ellner said. "The staff are stretched. They're working incredibly hard. You can feel the strain based on how sick the COVID-positive patients are here at our clinic. People are working together. They're working collaboratively in order to find solutions in order to meet the needs of the patients when they come in."

"It's definitely put a stress on everybody," Lammers said. "You know it's put a stress on us somewhat emotionally from handling all the new cases and seeing all these sick people. From a resource standpoint, sure it's stressing us, but I think we're handling things well. We've had some amazing people working to come up with what are our contingency plans when these numbers hit this."

Each hospital has a network to help handle COVID cases.

"As we act like a regional healthcare system, we have 14 critical-access hospitals that have really worked collaboratively to take patients from us as acute transfers to bring patients over to their facility and care for them as we would care for them," Ellner said.

"We've got so many other sister hospitals being part of this larger system," Lammers said "The front range and the Denver area. This all did blow up for them at kind of the beginning of things in March, April, May and so being able to use their experience here locally has been huge."

The doctors say it's important to follow the protocols not just for COVID patients but for everyone who visits the hospital.

"Please use every measure possible to avoid getting exposed to COVID," Ellner said. "It does matter out in the community if patients are masking and if people in the community are following the guidelines. It does help with easing that burden of patients coming to the hospital."

"The mask-wearing and the distancing and the duration and the density of the people that you're in," said Lammers. "So that we can start to re-flatten this curve a little bit, so that the people who need to come to the emergency who don't have COVID, so that we've got those resources to be able to take care of those people. As the numbers are blowing up like this, it's starting to touch everybody. I think just about everybody's got a close friend, a family member, a co-worker, somebody's getting sick."

Billings Clinic has partnered with St. John's United for extra hospital beds.

St. Vincent Healthcare still has enough beds in the hospital.