Originally published Nov. 22, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Federal emergency relief teams from the U.S. Department of Defense are on their way to Minnesota to help doctors and nurses at two Minnesota hospitals. When the rest of the state is celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday, they’ll be fighting the state’s COVID-19 surge.

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The shortage of ICU beds is so severe, doctors warn emergency care across the state is being compromised. Hennepin Healthcare says they are turning down up to 50 transfer requests a day for their advanced trauma facilities, as Minnesota grapples with one of the worst infection rates in the country.

“If you get into a car accident in rural Minnesota and are in need of complex trauma care, the additional 12 to 24 hours you have to wait for a bed to open up might mean the difference in long-term functional outcomes,” Dr. Daniel Hoody said. “If you are critically ill with non-COVID illness or COVID illness in a rural hospital not equipped to care for you, the additional wait times might be the difference between life and death.”

Hennepin Healthcare is the state’s largest Level 1 trauma center, and it’s so backed up it had five patients on ventilators in the emergency room Monday. HCMC says it has cancelled or postponed most non-emergency surgeries and procedures.

Hospital leaders say they have the beds, space and equipment, but the staffing shortage continues to be dire. It’s impacting hospitals across the state in their ability to provide the care for people who need it.

READ MORE: Federal Medical Teams Provide COVID Aid At HCMC

Gov. Tim Walz just announced this morning that he’s activating 400 members of Minnesota National Guard to help long-term care facilities with staffing. He also wants to use $50 million in federal funds to help nursing homes with recruitment and retention.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited HCMC on Monday and says the military relief teams will be ready to work on Thanksgiving Day in Minneapolis. HCMC says they’re not just at capacity, on most days they’re over capacity.

“What will I remember from this visit is the doctors and nurses who are simply exhausted, that are going to be working through the holidays. The least we can do for them is go out and get the vaccines,” Klobuchar said. “If you want to help a health care worker who maybe has saved the life of someone in your family, the best thing you can do is get your booster if you have already been vaccinated, or if you haven’t to get vaccinated now.”

Minnesota has seen a 53% increase in new cases in the last 14 days, and the number of people admitted to the hospital for COVID is up 37% in the same time span.

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Esme Murphy