Aberdeen hospitals preparing for potential surge

ABERDEEN, S.D. (aberdeennews.com) – Aberdeen hospitals are readying for a potential surge in their care needs as positive cases of COVID-19 rise in the state.

Avera St. Luke’s Hospital has been planning for a potential pandemic since January. It was a proactive measure when a new virus outbreak was seemingly still across the world.

“We’re lucky to be one of the last states in the country to go through the potential surge,” said Chris Malsom, Avera St. Luke’s respiratory care supervisor.

With that lag comes more experiences to draw from, more information, more research and more data for when a surge could hit South Dakota.

St. Luke’s, along with Aberdeen Sanford Medical Center, are readying staff, space and supplies to make available room for as many as 287 potentially hospital-bound virus patients. A peak in South Dakota is expected in mid-June. That original estimate for hospital bed need in the state was 5,000, but has since been cut in half.

Training staff on hand

Space and staff needs have shifted away from elective, routine and outpatient services at the hospitals. As part of the surge plan, some staffers are learning the ropes in other departments.

“We’ve been cross-training from departments that have seen a lower volume of patients. These staff are taking orientations, training. Some have come out of surgery as (certified registered nurse anesthetists) to our ICU, ER. (We’re) working to create a (staff) pool who can readily jump into those areas,” said Jenn Kludt, director of inpatient nursing services at St. Luke’s.

Sanford Aberdeen has also been diverting some employees to new areas for training opportunities, said CEO Ashley Erickson.

“As we would do any day, you adjust staffing to your volumes,” Erickson said Thursday.

Staff volume at hospitals and clinics has been unstable countrywide with furloughs and layoffs of health care workers announced amidst a pandemic. Earlier this month, Avera announced it was furloughing 650 employees across its five-state health system. Another 1,500 were getting their hours cut.

“Locally we had about 125 of the 650 total, roughly,” St. Luke’s CEO Todd Forkel said last week. “We have here about 1,000 employees to put it in perspective. Sometimes people don’t know how big we are. It was predominately in our back office function and our idle outpatient care areas.”

Elective outpatient procedures have ramped down and that has a big effect on hospital margins, said Forkel, adding that head administrators and physicians in Avera took pay reductions because “we’re all in this together.”

Sanford has reduced and postponed nonessential services, following CDC and state Department of Health guidelines for health care facilities. Sanford does not anticipate adding staff in the case of a surge.

“With existing employees and up-skilling, we have those resources we need in house. It’ll be dependent on our workforce, if they are ill or out,” said Erickson.

Both she and Forkel said at Monday’s city council meeting that their respective facilities are preparing to phase in some procedures and services that have been delayed in recent weeks.

(for more on this story visit www.aberdeennews.com)