Resources at Montana hospitals are stressing under spike in COVID cases

Posted at 5:59 PM, Sep 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 09:36:21-04

HELENA — Montana saw a new record number of daily COVID-19 cases with 348 reported on Wednesday. The state has averaged more than 300 new COVID cases a day from Sep. 23 to Sep. 30.

Governor Steve Bullock was joined by several Chief Medical Officers for a press conference Wednesday to address the drastic rise in COVID cases.

“Now more than ever we need all Montanans and businesses to act as this virus is still in our midst,” said Bullock. “Because it is, even more so that when COVID-19 first entered our state.”

State hospitals say they’re feeling the stress from COVID hospitalizations, and are stressing the importance of following COVID guidelines.

Benefis Health System in Great Falls is currently at 115% capacity with 37 patients that were hospitalized due to COVID complications, seven of which are in intensive care.

Dr. Shelly Harkins, chief medical officer at St. Peter’s Health in Helena, said even though they’re doing better than a lot of the state with only four active hospitalizations, they’re losing ground.

“Recently, in the last days to couple of weeks, the Helena community and surrounding counties we serve are seeing a very concerning increasing trend of COVID-19 cases,” said Harkins. “While our hospitalizations seem low compared to other hospitals in Montana, we anticipated based on the increase number of cases we will see an increase in number of hospitalizations in the coming weeks to months. At this pace we may reach our maximum capacity.”

The state reports supplies and resources in the Billings area have been stressed.

“We have seen some instances there where supplies are getting pretty tight and as we move into respiratory season in the fall, there’s concern that those systems are going to be even further stressed,” said State Communicable Disease Bureau Chief Jim Murphy. “There have been days where they’ve been down to single digits in capacity, with only 8 percent of beds remaining.

Bullock said that while the system isn’t overstressed yet, hospitals are in a difficult situation as the cold and flu season approaches.

“Our concerning trend in cases should cause us all some alarm,” Bullock said. What’s most concerning is knowing what can happen to our healthcare system if we don’t get the spread of this virus under control now. We’ve seen it happen in other states and there’s no real reason for it to happen in Montana.”

Bullock also recognized that the words from the Governor won’t convince everyone to take wearing a mask and social distancing seriously.

He hopes those individuals will listen to doctors and nurses who are dealing with the virus every single day, and have watched Montanans die because of COVID-19 compications.

“It’s very demoralizing for our healthcare workers observing others who fail to embrace these simple healthcare precautions and put people at risk,” said Dr. Mark Williams, chief physician officer at Bozeman Health. “We have dedicated nurses in our assisted living homes that literally cry at the end of their shift because they feel a degree of helplessness in taking care of those residents who are cut off from their families and friends because some in the community can’t abide by these simple measures.”