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Situation in North Dakota hospitals alarming as the need for hospitalizations increases



North Dakota – As the state’s hospital capacity reaches critical levels, Governor Doug Burgum, together with chief medical officers and physicians, is asking the public to assist reduce the need for hospitalization.

“The pressure on hospitals and clinics in both our urban and rural areas is reaching critical levels, and we all need to do our part to avoid hospitalization and prevent further strain on these facilities and their staff as we work through this incredibly challenging time,” said Burgum.

According to Dr. Richard Vetter, chief medical officer of Essentia Health in Fargo, North Dakota hospitals and health systems have experienced a considerable increase in acute health care demands in recent months, and they expect this higher demand to remain for some time. The increasing demand has resulted in increased delays in access to care, especially in emergency rooms and inpatient settings, according to Vetter, who also noted that patients are being referred outside of their regular referral patterns, often to hospitals hundreds of miles away.

“We are concerned that as influenza numbers increase, this will also put additional strain on our health system. We strongly encourage everyone to consider receiving a flu shot in the next 1-2 months,” said Vetter.

According to the North Dakota Department of Health, 43 patients from around the state were sent to other facilities on Friday, including six psychiatric patients, and 29 patients were waiting to be admitted to the hospital in emergency rooms.

“Health systems across North Dakota face headwinds in caring for the people of our state. Our hospitals are at or above capacity, affecting care for all medical conditions. Physicians, nurses, and other vital frontline health care workers are doing heroic work caring for our communities despite shortages in staff and space. We have difficult times ahead, but I’m confident we’ll work together to see us through,” said Meeker.

The most difficult challenge facing hospitals, according to Dr. Jeffrey Sather, chief of medical staff at Trinity Health in Minot, is a personnel deficit.

“The health care systems in our state and across the region are at the point of being overwhelmed. We are above our capacity to provide the normal care we all expect. I am so proud of every employee for what they go through every day. We have been doing the best we can over the past 18 months. I am also proud of the collaboration between health systems working together through this pandemic to care for our fellow citizens,” said Sather.

“Now more than ever we need the help of everyone to reduce the strain on our health care systems by reducing the need for hospitalization,” Sather added.

North Dakota was an early adopter of monoclonal antibody treatments that helped keep COVID-19 cases out of the hospital, according to Dr. Joshua Ranum, vice president of the North Dakota Medical Association and a physician at West River Health Services in Hettinger, but the current nationwide shortage of monoclonal antibodies is putting further strain on hospital capacity.

“Right now, stepping into a hospital in North Dakota is like stepping into an alternate reality. Our hospitals are at a redline capacity and will likely be that way for several more weeks. In stark contrast, one can move about the community almost normally, unaware of the chaos inside the hospital blocks away. We encourage all North Dakotans to get vaccinated, stay healthy, and stay safe in order to stay out of the hospital.  It may be you or a loved one who desperately needs that hospital bed,” said Ranum.

Medical officials advise that the public can help prevent hospitalizations in numerous ways:

  • Avoid dangerous or high-risk activities that could cause serious injury.
  • See your primary physician regularly and take care of your chronic health conditions.
  • Make sure vaccinations are current for you and your children.
  • Wash hands, social distance and wear a mask to help against all respiratory viruses.
  • If you are sick with any respiratory virus, stay home and isolate to avoid infecting others.
  • Practice defensive driving. There have been many recent high-trauma vehicle accidents in North Dakota. Obey traffic laws, use caution in construction zones, avoid distracted driving, use seat belts and helmets, and don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Consider a telehealth option if you aren’t feeling well.