Over the past few weeks, we have noticed a change in our ability to transfer critically ill patients who need complex medical care to other facilities with resources available to provide that care. In most cases these situations have involved patients who require intensive care but we have also had experiences where it has been difficult to transfer patients for other reasons that may not need intensive care.
Higher levels of care including medical Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds are available in facilities like Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City and other similar locations. Rural hospitals like Winneshiek Medical Center and others in our region do not have resources to provide this level of care. It is not uncommon for rural facilities to transfer patients who need medical ICU beds for acute care due to stroke, heart attack, trauma (accident) and other needs. At Winneshiek Medical Center, our main referral centers are Rochester, MN and La Crosse, WI.
What is happening regionally is that medical ICU beds, and in some cases general medical beds, at our typical referral centers and beyond may be at capacity and not available. The capacity at any medical facility, including WMC, can be impacted by the availability of beds, staffing availability and our ability to get critical supplies. This means that if you need medical care that does not require a medical ICU, there are likely beds available at WMC or regionally to meet your needs. However, if you have needs that require medical ICU level care or more complex care, then things have been more difficult. We have had to transfer a patient as far away as Ames, Iowa to find a bed after we had tried and failed to find a bed as far away as Milwaukee. At other times, transfers have been delayed significantly because we have not been able to find a facility able to meet the needs of the patient in a timely manner. These needs are typically emergent needs, so timeliness matters.
Medical ICU beds are not all occupied with COVID patients, but the beds being at capacity is because of COVID. In other words, care for COVID patients is affecting care of non-COVID emergencies and has affected our patients presenting here at Winneshiek Medical Center. This is unfortunate, because at this point, COVID hospitalizations are largely, but not entirely, preventable through vaccination.