South Dakota hospitals need to surge ICU beds as COVID-19 cases spike; Sioux Falls opens model to the public

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Will Sioux Falls have enough capacity to treat its patients? Yes, say doctors at Sanford and Avera Health.

Dr. David Basel is the vice president of Avera Medical Group Clinical Quality.

“This is well, well beyond anything we have seen in this city before,” Basel said. “We will take any and all help we can get.”

Dr. Jeremy Cauwels, senior vice president of quality at Sanford Health, agreed.

“Can we do it? Absolutely,” Cauwels said.

Sanford and Avera Health leaders, however, have two different philosophies, said Mayor Paul TenHaken.

Sanford is confident that a stay-at-home order is not needed. Avera is endorsing an order, according to TenHaken.

Sanford Health officials said they’re planning, training and trying to get ready, but said they can handle the projected surges.

This discussion happened at a Friday afternoon Sioux Falls city council informational meeting.

Leaders from both health systems and the city presented the data behind its models, driving policy decisions like a potential stay-at-home order or some sort of social distancing measure.

The city model looks at three different types of social distancing scenarios: no social distancing, 25% reduction in social contact and 35% reduction in social contact.

The experts believe Sioux Falls is currently operating at a 25% reduction in social contact, based on traffic data, anonymous cell phone data and other measurements.

“Changes in social distancing can really help improve that,” Avera Chief Clinical Research Officer Amy Elliott said. “25 percent is really tracking right now.”

Elliott said the projections presented is in between a worst-case and best-case scenario.

The 35% reduction in social contact is based on the city enacting a stay-at-home order. City council members are still grappling with how to act and will make decisions on Tuesday.

Nearly 95% of the active cases of COVID-19 in South Dakota are in Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties. City of Sioux Falls public health director Jill Franken reminded council members that the city models are just within those two counties.

At the same time, the city’s two hospitals – Sanford USD Medical Center and Avera McKennan Hospital – take in patients from across the state and region.

One scenario working in the favor of health professionals is that South Dakota will likely see two peaks for hospitalizations. One for Sioux Falls and another for South Dakota.

In a media briefing on Friday, South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said while the state is planning for 1,300 Intensive Care Unit beds, the most recent models show the state will need 650 beds.

While Malsam-Rysdon couldn’t share an exact number, she said the current number of ICU beds in South Dakota is in the 250 range.

In Sioux Falls, the city briefing didn’t go into the number of ICU beds within the city, but the hospital officials were adamant they have enough ICU beds and ventilators.

ICU beds are critical to the COVID-19 pandemic. The high level of care, staff and equipment has been vital.

KELOLAND News looked at the ICU bed counts across the state last month.

South Dakota is somewhat limited in its resources being such a large state geographically, with a small population.

Case in point: The first area of community spread was Beadle County. According to data analysis by Kaiser Health News, the county has only six ICU beds.

What this data doesn’t show is ICU beds at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Indian Health Service Hospitals. IHS officials have said there are 37 ICU beds across its national system, but didn’t specify where.

KELOLAND News reached out to South Dakota’s three main health systems: Sanford, Avera and Monument Health to get exact numbers of ICU beds.

Sanford Health couldn’t comment on specifics regarding surge plans but referred us to the city briefing. Avera and Monument didn’t respond.

Back to the city level, TenHaken alluded to both health systems tapping on the ceiling of what they are each comfortable with for hospitalizations.

The projections in the Sioux Falls model are driven by hospitalizations, not the number of confirmed cases. The city data team said:

  • Models are simplifications of the real world
  • Careful consideration of the variables used is required
  • Models are dynamic they are meant to be continually re-evaluated as new information becomes available
  • Models are tools for thinking about disease progression no oracles of the future

Unlike the state models, the city of Sioux Falls shared in-depth what parameters it used to created the models.

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