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Top hospital exec: Montana is in a public health crisis with surge of COVID cases

Posted at 7:04 PM, Oct 15, 2020

A dire situation was laid out by healthcare workers at a Thursday news conference if coronavirus numbers don’t slow down in Montana.

“I will put this very simply. We are experiencing a public health crisis,” warned Dr. Bridget Brennan, chief medical officer of Benefis Health System in Great Falls. “The number of positive COVID cases is rising so quickly that it is threatening to overwhelm healthcare resources in the state.”

Brennan told reporters that over the past several weeks, hospitals across the state have been reaching and exceeding their capacity. Benefis itself has been taking on patients from other Montana hospitals after ICU’s had become full.

Brennan also noted that staffing has faced challenges with healthcare workers contracting the virus in their community and have to quarantine.

“We have a number of employees that have been affected and are out,” explained Dr. Brennan. “Everyone across the board is having staffing issues because when infected the staff have to stay home out of work.”

Governor Steve Bullock stressed that the increases in testing aren’t causing the issues of hospitalizations, and asks that Montanans listen to the front line workers facing the disease everyday.

“This is a virus that impacts certainly those that are most vulnerable but can impact anyone and it certainly isn’t a matter of doing additional testing that’s filling our hospitals’ intensive care units,” said Bullock.

Brennan also warned that if things don’t change and cases aren’t reduced, very soon there will be significant consequences.

“If we don’t change and don’t get a hold of this, as we go into cold and flu season we’re going to see more and more hospitals reach that capacity. We’re going to see ICUs that won’t have beds for patients that need them. That in turn is going to funnel down to the rest of the hospital system to where we’re holding patients in the emergency department, or not be able to accept a patient from some of the smaller critical access hospitals that rely on us to help them,” said Brennan.

Brennan believes the state’s initial low COVID case count may have led some to believe the pandemic wasn’t that serious. A low positive COVID count is no longer the case for Montana, with the state regularly seeing more than 500 new COVID cases each day in recent weeks.

Brennan says wearing a mask when in public, washing hands, not touching your face and avoiding large gatherings are all proven ways to reduce the spread.

Bullock also made an appeal to nurses, emergency medical technicians and other medical personnel to sign up with the state to be a paid volunteer. Paid volunteers will be assigned for a limited time to areas of the state that are struggling with responding to COVID. More information about how to become a paid volunteer can be found here.

Bullock says they’ve reached out to other states for mutual aid, but haven’t had any luck as of yet.

On Thursday, it was also announced a second round of COVID relief payments are being made available for local and tribal public health departments, and the University of Montana in Missoula will be adding COVID testing to help the State of Montana.