St. Peter's Health Sees a Record Number of Hospitalized Community Members with COVID-19, Implores Community to Ramp Up Precautions

October 8, 2021

St. Peter's Health announced today that it reached an unfortunate milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic. 41 patients on the morning of Friday, October 8, were hospitalized with COVID-19 at the local health care system's Regional Medical Center, the highest number to date. This statistic represents around 50 percent of the organization's acute medical care inpatient beds. St. Peter's does not believe the surge at the hospital is at its peak, as hospitalizations and deaths associated with COVID-19 typically lag case reporting by two to three weeks. Lewis and Clark County has reported high case numbers this week, with Tuesday's total of 132 new cases representing the highest since December 2020. 

In response to the surge, the health care system is taking additional actions to ensure it can continue providing life-saving care to the community:

  • Postponing and rescheduling surgeries that require an inpatient bed. The Operating Room will remain open for some outpatient and all emergent procedures. The need for postponement of procedures will be reevaluated often. Patients who this will impact will be contacted directly by their surgeon's office.  At this time, this will not impact all procedures. 
  • Reassigning providers and staff from its outpatient clinic operations to provide hospital-based care. You will be contacted if appointments need to be rescheduled. Please do not call to cancel appointments, and do not hesitate to call and schedule an appointment. This may also impact the clinic's ability to respond promptly to messages and results and patience is requested. This will only impact some clinics temporarily. 
  • Extending and expanding our partnership with the Montana National Guard to assist with critical staffing needs as well as transitioning areas of the hospital used for outpatient procedures into inpatient rooms to prepare for more patients.
  • Creating an emergency department triage strategy, which includes, at times, using a tent for waiting or triage. The community will see a large tent outside the Emergency Department and there will be minimal impact to parking. This tent will not be in use at all times, only as needed based on real-time volume. 

"We are doing absolutely all we can, pulling out all stops to ensure we can continue to care for our community, but we need your help," said St. Peter's Health Chief Medical Officer and President of Regional Medical Center Dr. Shelly Harkins. "As we've said over and over again, seek medical care if you need it. It is safe. But we are telling you that your experience may be different regardless of why you're seeking care. The community needs to understand that this surge has implications for our entire health system. Do not be surprised."

Take action to slow the spread

St. Peter's leaders implore the community to take action to slow the spread as the emotional and physical toll on caregivers and community members impacted by the virus increases. 

"What we are seeing is tragic and unprecedented. The is no other way to describe it," said St. Peter's Interim Chief Nursing Officer Kari Koehler, MSN, RN. "St. Peter's staff members continue to show up each day to care for our community. We celebrate alongside families when people get better, and we celebrate the good, the healing that occurs each day. But hearts are also hurting, and we are tired. We are caring for very, very sick people. Our teams who care for COVID-19 patients on our medical floor and ICU are now losing a patient on their unit almost every day/night despite their extraordinary, collaborative efforts." 

St. Peter's begs community members to take precautions like masking indoors in public, staying home when sick and keeping your world as small as possible during this surge. Basic precautions are effective at reducing the high levels of COVID-19 transmission in the community. 

"By almost every measure -- staffing, bed availability, patient acuity --this surge is more challenging for the health care system than the first surge last fall/winter. We believe this is because the Delta variant is more aggressive than previously dominant variants, and there are very few risk mitigation measures in place in the community. Outside our walls, life looks pretty 'normal,' but these are not normal times no matter how much we all wish they were. We can't ignore or argue our way out of this pandemic," said Dr. Harkins. 

Don't delay vaccination

According to Dr. Harkins, "vaccination remains our best tool to fight the continuing pandemic, save lives and ensure your local hospital can sustain all operations." St. Peter's Health reminds the community that vaccination is not 100 percent effective, underscoring the importance of continued, basic prevention measures, especially during a surge. While breakthrough cases happen, especially when the virus is so widespread, vaccination is highly effective at helping prevent hospitalization, severe illness and death. 

"We don't know what else to say other than we're hurting in all the ways one can feel pain - physically and psychologically," said Koehler. "We are here to care for our community, and we are committed to caring for patients with COVID-19 and those without, but we need your help. We need you to help us get through this together by choosing kindness, taking all the precautions we've talked about for well over a year, supporting our staff and getting fully vaccinated if you're eligible."