By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As ICU beds get closer to reaching capacity in Minnesota, there’s a dedicated team working around the clock to make sure every patient gets the care they need.

Right now, one-third of all Minnesotans in the ICU are there because of COVID-19.

Only on WCCO, we give you the first look inside the state’s critical care command center, or C4.

The room has been dubbed mission control. Set up in May in response to the pandemic, it is where hospital critical care availability is coordinated, according to Dr. Karyn Baum, vice president of System Clinical Operations at M Health Fairview.

“The idea that as capacity rises and certain hospitals get busy, we want to make sure that all of our hospitals and our patients are taken care of,” Baum said.

M Health Fairview already had the infrastructure for its hospital system, and its staff stepped up to also take on ICU patient placement for the state.

What they do here is critical to patient survival. This is where hospitals turn for help when they’ve exhausted their own options for finding space for ICU patients, says Mary Jo Huppert, director of Care Management Clinical Operations at HealthEast.

“The role is very critical because timeliness is important,” Huppert said.

Staff look at the screens to determine where there’s an ICU bed, with the kind of care a patient needs. Many are COVID-related, but C4 handles all critical care patients.

“You can get five calls in an hour or you can get one call, you just never know,” Huppert said.

Bed availability is constantly fluctuating. Hospitals update their numbers three times a day, and technology allows them to predict how busy a hospital will be in the hours ahead.

“I always say patient placement is a little bit like a game of ‘Tetris.’ You’ve got to find that right bed and the right space at the right time,” Baum said. “It can be a challenge but we’re ready to meet it.”

They try to place close home, but it may include travel to get the right care. Thanks to the work in a room called “MAP,” patients crossed the state on Wednesday, from St. Cloud to the metro, along with patients from Aitkin, St. Louis and Wright counties to the Twin Cities.

“You have an amazing team, that’s how you make this work. Honestly,” Baum said.

The surge in calls started in late October. And since the beginning of the month, C4 has found an ICU bed for 268 of our family, friends and neighbors.

“We are here for you, and it would be great if we don’t have to take care of you,” Baum said.

Right now, C4 is placing roughly 12 patients a day. The command center will run coordination for the state until it’s no longer needed.

Jennifer Mayerle