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Logan Health exceeds adult acute-care bed capacity

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | August 13, 2021 12:23 PM

Logan Health Medical Center surpassed its adult acute-care bed capacity this week after the hospital experienced a surge in both emergency-room activity and patients suffering from COVID-19.

Dr. Doug Nelson, Logan Health's chief medical officer, said the hospital in Kalispell has 124 adult acute-care beds, which includes the intensive-care unit, intermediate care, oncology, surgical departments and more. On Thursday morning, the hospital's patient census was at 128, or roughly 3% above capacity.

Thursday's patient count included 30 people admitted specifically for COVID-19 — a number that increased to 32 individuals on Friday, 90% of whom are unvaccinated.

Logan Health has a 29-bed area dedicated for COVID-19 patients with more severe symptoms, but according to Nelson, that space and others can expand to fit more patients, though he did not say how many more.

For reference, Logan Health was caring for 38 COVID-19 patients during the height of the pandemic in November 2020. While that caseload strained the hospital — known then as Kalispell Regional Medical Center — Nelson said the facility was still prepared to make adjustments.

"We are making contingency plans to be able to take care of patients with COVID and other needs in case this current surge should expand further. And we anticipate it will," said Nelson, adding that Logan Health is currently well-equipped with personal protective equipment, ventilators and other items needed to treat more severe symptoms of the virus.

SOME SHIFTS already are underway after the adult acute-care bed capacity was reached earlier this week. Nelson said the hospital has begun to board patients with various medical needs at other Logan Health facilities.

In addition to the 124 beds currently filled, Logan Health has 199 beds scattered throughout Logan Health Children's, the Brendan House, the Logan Health Newman Center and elsewhere, though a portion of those already are occupied as well.

Nelson said at least half of the system's 323 beds are currently in use.

That's up from 48% occupancy on Monday, according to a report released by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. The department issues weekly updates on hospital occupancy and capacity across the state in order to gauge how coronavirus surges are straining different facilities.

At last report, hospitals in Yellowstone, Cascade, Lewis and Clark and Sweet Grass counties, among others, were all above 80% capacity. At least a dozen counties were hovering between 50% and 70% capacity, while another 10 were between 30% and 50%.

State data also shows COVID-19 hospitalizations and caseloads have swelled throughout the week, so some of those hospitals are probably more crowded than they were on Monday — as was the case for Flathead County.

On Friday, the department counted 2,659 active infections statewide, up from 2,166 on Monday.

ALTHOUGH HOSPITALIZATIONS are trending upward in Flathead County, Nelson said Logan Health doesn't currently plan to halt any of its other operations, as it did with elective surgeries in spring 2020.

"The numbers we are seeing are certainly troubling, but we are still at full operations and we still have capacity," Nelson said. "It's hard to predict the future, but for now we are able to care for COVID and non-COVID patients, and we have a number of plans we can implement to make sure we can keep doing that safely."

Multiple factors and trends could determine whether operations will be modified down the road.

The majority of patients currently admitted for COVID have tested positive for the delta variant, a highly contagious strain of the virus that often leads to more severe symptoms, particularly among unvaccinated people, the elderly and the immunocompromised.

Many of those patients must remain at the hospital longer due to their symptoms, sometimes occupying a bed for weeks. And should they become well enough to be transferred elsewhere to recover, Nelson said skilled nursing facilities often won't accept COVID-19 patients.

"Oftentimes, these patients could benefit from a skilled nursing facility, but finding a place for those individuals is obviously a challenge because facilities don't want to risk infection by taking in a positive patient,” Nelson said. "That contributes to our census at the hospital as well."

HOSPITALS ARE also are watching case numbers in children.

At the start of the pandemic, children made up only a fraction of COVID-19 cases in the United States, and most of those infected experienced only mild symptoms.

However, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows children now make up roughly 20% of new cases. And in states such as Texas and Florida, where cases are climbing quickly, many hospitals are reporting an uptick in children needing to be hospitalized for COVID-19.

Nelson said very few children so far have required hospitalization for COVID-19 in Flathead County, but he said that number may increase in the future.

"If Montana starts seeing more cases in children, that's something that we will need to be prepared for," Nelson said.

He emphasized that an increase in local vaccination rates would help the most vulnerable from needing to be hospitalized, including children and older adults.

"Vaccinating really is our best defense against this," Nelson said.

Roughly 40% of Flathead County's vaccine-eligible population is fully vaccinated. Statewide, 49% of the eligible population, or about 450,016 people, are fully vaccinated.

Anyone who wants a vaccine can sign up for a free appointment with the Flathead City-County Health Department at flatheadhealth.org.

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.