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Hospitals saw surge in patients thanks to ice injuries

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Justyna Sparrow negotiates an icy Ramsey Hill sidewalk.
Justyna Sparrow, of St. Paul, negotiates an icy Ramsey Hill sidewalk as she walks from Frogtown to her West Side home Monday.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Twin Cities area hospitals and urgent cares say the icy conditions this week contributed to very busy emergency rooms. In the case of one medical center, the flow of fall injuries forced it to react almost as it would for a mass-casualty incident.

Regions Hospital in St. Paul treated 335 patients Monday — 90 with ice-related injuries. 

Regions brought in extra staff, opened up a half-dozen beds for treatment and converted spaces like surgical recovery and waiting areas to patient care. 

"Because we are a level one trauma center, we do simulation planning for surges of patients as what might occur during a mass-casualty event," said emergency medical director Kurt Isenberger.

In Minneapolis, Dr. James Miner, head of emergency medicine at Hennepin Healthcare, said the hospital treated many people who hit the ground much faster than they were expecting.

Miner said 354 people came through the emergency department on Monday — 70 cases involved broken bones from falling. 

Miner said the ice was more hazardous for walking than he's ever seen in Minneapolis. 

"I think even sloping surfaces had ice on them," Miner said. "I don't think they saw it coming."

North Memorial Medical Center reported more than 500 people in emergency departments in Robbinsdale and Maple Grove, about twice the number of a normal winter day.

Medical staff said the injuries reflected the peril.

Regions' Isenberger said there was a notable number of head injuries that included not only concussions but bleeding in the brain. 

"Normally they have a chance to catch themselves, which injures your wrist or knee or an ankle. In this one, we saw a number of people who quickly went down and didn't have a chance to catch themselves," Isenberger said.

At the Urgency Room, which has treatment centers in Woodbury, Eagan and Vadnais Heights, patients showed up with broken elbows, broken vertebrae in their backs and even one broken pelvis, said medical director Carolyn McClain. She said they got about 100 patients with fall-related injuries — including a 90-year-old man, who otherwise was very healthy.

"For the first time in his life, he broke a bone and shattered his elbow, slipping on the ice," McClain said.

Doctors recommend that anyone who has lost consciousness or has an injury that is getting more painful to seek medical attention immediately.