Sanford Health officials on Friday said the Bismarck hospital has room to accept more COVID-19 patients, though they acknowledged that some patients have been sent to Fargo recently.
Hospital capacity is becoming a bigger issue as coronavirus cases spike in the Bismarck-Mandan region, and hospitalizations rise statewide. Coronavirus-related hospitalizations in North Dakota rose for a fifth straight day on Friday, to a new high of 65, according to daily data released by the state Department of Health.
There are 26 beds available in Sanford's COVID unit, and the hospital can accommodate up to 100 total coronavirus beds in its facility, according to Dr. Michael LeBeau, president of Sanford Health Bismarck. The COVID unit currently has 20 patients.
The hospital has more than 50 ventilators, which were accounted for in Sanford's surge plan designed in mid-March, said Todd Schaffer, Sanford's vice president of clinics. He did not say how many are in use.
LeBeau confirmed that COVID-19 patients from Sanford Bismarck have been transferred to Sanford Fargo, though he did say transferring a patient is rare. Schaffer said only one or two patients have been affected.
"We've had several occasions where to operationalize a second unit will take a little time, so we've made the decision to use Fargo to keep everyone with COVID separated," LeBeau said.
Sanford officials also addressed Sunset Drive Prospera Community's new COVID-19 unit. An administrator for Sunset Drive wrote in a letter to residents and families dated Wednesday that the facility would house coronavirus patients who have been discharged from Sanford Health but still need medical care.
LeBeau said Sunset Drive's function is to provide additional care to patients who are stable. For example, a patient may no longer need treatment for COVID-19 itself but still experience a complication such as deconditioning, which occurs when a patient has difficulty walking because he or she has been in a bed for weeks. That patient would then be sent to Sunset Drive's COVID unit to regain mobility.
Sunset Drive has eight beds available for long-term care.
Less than 2% of Sanford employees have COVID-19, and LeBeau said the facility can be staffed to full function.
A representative for CHI St. Alexius Health for the second day in a row did not respond to requests for comment on that hospital's situation.
Hospitalizations in the state stood at 47 on Sunday. They've risen every day since, including by six on Friday, to the new high of 65. A total of 455 people have been hospitalized since the start of the pandemic.
The state Department of Health reported 152 new COVID-19 cases in 29 counties, raising the state total to 8,322, with 7,066 recoveries. Officials also reported the death of a Grand Forks County man in his 90s with underlying medical conditions -- the state's 121st coronavirus-related death.
The new cases included 31 in Burleigh, 10 in Morton and 25 in Stark, home to Dickinson.
Burleigh-Morton is the state's newest hot spot, with state and local officials recently forming a task force to address a steady rise in cases in recent weeks. Stark County has seen sharp increases in cases this week, and it remained second in the state in active cases on Friday, at 133. Burleigh was once again tops, with 269, and Morton was third, at 115. Cass County, long the state's hot spot before a task force was formed there, is now fourth, with 103 active cases.
Active cases statewide rose by 37 to 1,135. The recent steady rise has coincided with the reopening of the economy, more gatherings of people and increased public testing. The number of people in North Dakota tested for coronavirus at least once is at 176,603, and total tests number 385,320.
The Burleigh-Morton COVID-19 Task Force, recently created to address the rise in cases in the two counties, is planning to launch a data dashboard that will better inform residents of the severity of the COVID-19 hot spot in the two counties.
The dashboard, which will be available on the task force's website at https://www.bismarcknd.gov/covidtaskforce, will contain data from the North Dakota Department of Health about Burleigh and Morton counties, including positivity rates, active cases, ages of active cases, deaths and the rolling 14-day average positivity rate.
Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health Director Renae Moch said at a task force meeting Friday that she hopes the dashboard will lead to better decisions for schools, businesses and the community at large.
Local officials made a request to the state three weeks ago to publicly release county-specific data, Moch said. North Dakota Chief Operating Officer Tammy Miller, a member of the task force, said she was confident the dashboard will be ready next week.
Risk level credibility
Some task force members expressed concerns at the meeting about the state's risk level remaining at low while Burleigh and Morton counties have moved into the moderate risk level based on testing data. Ministry on the Margins founder Sister Kathleen Atkinson, a member of the task force's underserved populations subcommittee, said she has heard people say COVID-19 is not that serious because the state remains at the low risk level as cases continue to climb.
"Leaving us at low risk is eating away at our credibility," Atkinson said.
The task force also received updates from its subcommittees about their efforts to slow the spread of the disease in the community. Most of the subcommittee heads reported concerns about making sure residents have the right information about wearing masks, preventing the spread of COVID-19 and the risks associated with the disease.
Brian Ritter, head of the business community subcommittee, said there is confusion among businesses in the area on where to get employees tested and uncertainty about encouraging mask-wearing in small businesses.
Ritter said his group asked, "How do we encourage the small voluntary things that will prevent the big mandatory things?" His subcommittee will work on creating awareness campaigns for employee testing and mask wearing.
John Hagan with the underserved populations subcommittee said the group's largest concern is finding a shelter to house homeless patients who have COVID-19 or need to isolate because of exposure.
"We've worn out our welcome with hotels," Hagan said.
He added that the subcommittee is looking for commercial buildings not currently in use, such as strip malls, to be turned into shelters.For more information on coronavirus in North Dakota, go to health.nd.gov/coronavirus.