The strain of a months-long surge in coronavirus cases has reduced hospital capacity to care for those with severe symptoms, making it increasingly uncertain whether the sickest South Dakotans will be able to get treatment in the state, health providers say.
Both the Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls and Monument Health Rapid City Hospital have reported that their Intensive Care Units are out of space. On Dec. 2, Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls reported that 6.7% of its ICU beds were available for use. Statewide, the number of available ICU beds has been steadily declining as coronavirus cases have continued to climb.
Major hospitals are still taking patients when they can, but some sick South Dakotans are being sent out of state, forced to use expensive urgent transportation systems to get care hundreds of miles away from their families.
Rose Mary Kor, who lives outside the Black Hills city of Custer, was rushed to the Emergency Room at Monument Health Custer Hospital on Nov. 2 after struggling to breathe for nearly a week. Kor, 70, said she thought her asthma had been acting up. Then, after an emergency X-ray, doctors told Kor that she had pneumonia due to COVID-19 and needed immediate hospitalization at a more well-equipped facility.
The problem was that Monument Health Rapid City Hospital, where critically ill patients from Custer are usually sent, was full and couldn’t accept new COVID-19 patients.
Monument Health had taken steps to prepare for surges in COVID-19 patients. Some hospital staff volunteered to work extra shifts, nurses have cross-trained to work in the ICU and the hospital is working to add six new ICU beds, said ICU Medical Director Dr. Srinivas K. Gangineni.
With patient volumes expected to remain high and are expected to surge again following the holidays, the Monument Health Rapid City ICU and others likely willl have to continue diverting at least some patients to other hospitals.