COVID-19 is taking a toll on young people, too

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By Reed Anfinson
“We have young people in our hospitals on ventilators and dying from COVID,” Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith, vice president of rural health at Carris Health, told the Swift County-Benson Health Services (SCBHS) governing board Monday night.
While in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic it was the elderly who were the largest age group dying from the disease caused by the virus, high vaccinations among those 65 is now saving lives.
While there are still patients in the 80s who are dying from COVID-19, “we’ve got people who are intubated anywhere from in the 30s on up. It is a really, really bad disease,” she said.
SCBHS is affiliated with Carris Health in Willmar and with CentraCare Health in St. Cloud. They provide management services and share resources with the hospital and clinic in Benson.  Monday night’s meeting was conducted remotely because of the significant and sustained spike in COVID-19 cases the hospital has been facing in recent weeks.
“It has been a pretty stressful time for all the people on the front lines caring for these patients,’ Firkins-Smdith said. “Our hospitals are full. We have people sitting in emergency rooms for hours, sometimes eight hours, 12 hours, 24 hours or more looking for beds for critically ill patients. That is not just patients with COVID, it is patients with sepsis and heart attacks strokes, and needing surgery.”
SCBHS sends many of its critically ill patients from the area to Carris and CentraCare for treatment. However, for weeks now it has been hard to find open beds. Hospitals in Minnesota and the region are full.
“There were only two critical care beds in Fargo today,” Bryan Lydick, southwest region executive director for rural health at Carris Health, said. “That has kind of been the theme for the past four to six weeks.”
To help with what she reluctantly called a “game of musical beds,” CentraCare has instituted a medical officer of the day position. This person works with all of CentraCare’s affiliated partners helping to find beds for critically ill patients. The person also works find the right place for each patient’s care.
“Obviously, we think the right place for care is as close to home as possible but there are times when they need critical care and we need to be able to share those resources throughout our system,” she said.
SCBHS Chief Nursing and Clinical Officer and Co-CEO Melissa McGinty-Thompson has been working closely with Dr. Deb Peterson, the CentraCare officer of the day. She has been reporting to her every day by 6:30 a.m. so she can get a feel for how SCBHS is with its patients. She has been a tremendous help in finding beds for SCBHS patients who are critically ill.
SCBHS staff has been having to deal with a steady critically ill patient load of cases that it does not usually face. In the past, these patients have been transferred quickly to facilities that are staffed and equipped to provide a higher level of care.
“We do a really good job of stabilizing patients and being able to send them on to where they can receive that definitive care,” McGinty-Thompson said. “And through all of this our staff has really struggled because they know what the patient needs and we are not able to do it. We don’t have the resources here. That has been very trying for our staff.”

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