The Potluck

Minnesota opens second overflow center for hospital patients amid COVID-19 surge, labor shortage

By: - November 10, 2021 7:59 pm

A “prone team,” prepares to turn a COVID-19 patient onto his stomach in an intensive care unit on April 24, 2020. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

The state of Minnesota is opening a second overflow center for patients in hopes of relieving strain for hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday.

The skilled nursing facility at Good Samaritan Society – Bethany in Brainerd will have 34 beds for patients who no longer need acute emergency care but aren’t well enough to go home, like people recovering from surgery. It will be staffed by a team of 14 Minnesota National Guard members and nine federal nurses.

The news comes as Minnesota faces one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks. Over the weekend, the Minnesota Department of Health said there were too many positive cases for its staff to process. Minnesota’s test positivity rate has surpassed 9% — far beyond the 5% threshold state officials say indicates uncontrolled spread of the virus.

More than 1,150 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 Tuesday, the highest number so far this year, and hospitals across the state are filling up. Just 12 intensive care unit beds and 45 non-ICU beds were available in the metro.

Jan Malcolm, Minnesota Department of Health commissioner, told reporters Wednesday that the health care staffing shortages are worsening hospitals’ stress amid the surge in COVID-19 patients. Burnout among staff has only added to the problem, as those who are still working require breaks for their mental and physical health, she said.

“Very few facilities — like, none — are able to take more patients without supplementary staff being provided. That’s a piece of the puzzle that’s frankly a challenge with the national workforce shortage,” Malcolm said. “Staff are extraordinarily worn out.”

The state’s other overflow care facility opened at Good Samaritan Society – Bethany in Shakopee in early November.

Health officials say the outbreak is still primarily among unvaccinated people, although they suspect waning immunity among people who were vaccinated in early 2020 and haven’t received a booster could be playing a role as well, MPR News reported.

Nearly 3.5 million Minnesotans over age 12 — or 74% of the population — have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 70% are fully vaccinated.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.