By Liz Collin

SAUK CENTRE, Minn. (WCCO) — Climbing COVID-19 cases are taking a toll on small Minnesota hospitals. Doctors in some rural parts of the state says it’s the worst they’ve seen it.

WCCO traveled to Sauk Centre where finding a hospital bed to get better for weeks has been a struggle.

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Susan Rutten has spent the last five days at CentraCare’s Sauk Centre hospital with COVID-19. The 65-year-old says she didn’t know what to believe when it came to the vaccine.

“I was torn between some people telling me to, some people telling me not to,” Rutten said.

With the help of monoclonal antibodies, she felt OK for about a week. Until her oxygen levels started falling.

Her message now?

“Get the vaccination. Stay out of the hospital,” Rutten said.

Rutten is one of seven people with the virus staying at CentraCare, a hospital that usually keeps five to six people with a variety of issues.

For the last month, they’ve been seeing twice that.

Dr. Ulrika Wigert said what’s happening at their hospital is not unusual.

“This is the way it is for every small hospital across our entire state right now,” she said.

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With no ICU on site, Wigert says last weekend a COVID-19 patient spent 18 hours on a ventilator as her team worked to find a better place for care.

“From Grand Forks to Fargo, to Sioux Falls to Duluth, Mankato. There were no ICU beds anywhere that could take this patient,” Wigert said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, Sauk Centre surrounds some of the state’s least vaccinated counties where 40% to 50% of the population has had at least one dose.

“If we could have got to 80% to 90 percent vaccinated, we wouldn’t have this level of COVID and this Delta variant going around,” Wigert said.

“I feel bad taking up a bed if someone needs it worse than I do,” Rutten said.

She hopes to be home in the next few days as the battle at hospitals both big and small rages on.

“It’s really hard and really tiring,” Wigert said.

Last month, rural hospitals in Minnesota cared for more COVID-19 patients than at Twin Cities hospitals.

Eight CentraCare locations are currently treating 100 COVID-19 patients.

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Liz Collin