(Originally published on Aug. 26)By David Schuman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Hospital ICU bed capacity in the Twin Cities is above 97%. It’s even more crowded outside intensive care units.

“We’re full on the wards, we’re full in the intensive care, we’re full in the emergency room,” said Dr. Bret Haake, the chief medical officer at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

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Haake says an increase in COVID patients is combining with more non-COVID patients than there were during the worst of the pandemic last year to push Regions to a precarious place.

“We find ways to maneuver our fullness to add one more patient, get one more patient home to add one more patient, so we’re constantly facilitating beds and patients with different diagnoses to try to make it work,” he said.

Haake likened the situation to a game of musical chairs. He says staff are pulling overtime and working extra shifts to make it all work.

Margaret Thorsgaard is feeling that burden at St. Paul’s United Hospital, where she’s an emergency department technician.

“Most of us don’t get into health care to watch people suffer, and that’s what feels like is all we’re doing right now,” Thorsgaard said.

She describes capacity to be at a breaking point too, saying most shifts there are no beds or very few beds.

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State data shows COVID patients are the minority in metro-area hospitals. They occupy about 7.5 percent of all beds.

Bed capacity is above 98% though, so anyone going to the ER, whether for COVID or otherwise, is likely to be faced with long wait times.

“We have to do priority,” said Montrell Bond, a trauma nurse at North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale. “Patients are coming in for typical ER visits, wait times are increasing.”

Haake says some patients can wait up to three or four hours. Thorsgaard says she’s seen waits longer than seven hours.

Nearly every person hospitalized for COVID right now at Regions is unvaccinated. Other medical professionals have reported similar at their hospitals.

Haake says getting the vaccine would help give the healthcare system a much-needed breather.

Minnesota’s Department of Health is helping with transferring patients where needed to try to lighten the load on any one hospital.

MORE NEWS: COVID In Minnesota: State Taking New Measures As Hospitals Reach Capacity

A spokesperson for Hennepin Healthcare told WCCO in a statement: “Like other hospitals throughout the state, HCMC has been experiencing higher than average patient volumes … Emergency departments normally experience a rise due to trauma at this time of year. COVID-19, other illness, and staffing are also playing a role in the challenges at this time. If you’re seeking care in an emergency department, understand that patients are triaged according to the severity of their injury or illness. Wait times depend on the time of day; and those who need care right away are of course prioritized. At Hennepin Healthcare, wait times have been up since mid-July.”

David Schuman