Updated: 9:12 p.m.
Central Minnesota's largest health care provider announced Thursday it will designate its hospital in Sauk Centre to care exclusively for patients with COVID-19.
Starting Monday, COVID-19 patients from around the region who do not require ventilators or high-volume oxygen will be cared for at the western Stearns County hospital.
CentraCare says the changes are in response to the surge of coronavirus cases across central Minnesota, and are aimed at reducing the pressures on its two largest hospitals, in St. Cloud and Willmar.
“Their capacity to care for those patients is becoming increasingly more difficult, due to staffing issues and the number of patients that are just needing hospitalization,” said Dr. Ulrika Wigert, CentraCare's section director for regional family medicine and a family physician in Sauk Centre.
About 30 percent of patients at St. Cloud Hospital are COVID-19 positive.
CentraCare said the move will free up capacity at St. Cloud Hospital and Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar — owned by its subsidiary, Carris Health — to care for more critically ill COVID-19 patients.
CentraCare's Monticello hospital also is expanding its capacity by equipping more rooms to care for COVID-19 patients. Meanwhile, CentraCare hospitals in Melrose and Long Prairie will shift to treating surgical patients, those giving birth and patients hospitalized for reasons other than COVID-19.
"We're going to make sure that the patients have the highest level of care that they need for where they're at, and realizing that this might happen at a little different location than expected,” Wigert said. “But we're going to be able to work seamlessly to make this happen."
Wigert said patients seeking emergency care should continue to go to their closest hospital.
“We want to assure people that our ERs and all our hospitals remain open and ready to care for any patient that needs to be cared for,” she said.
Bryan Bauck, administrator of CentraCare-Melrose, said the changes will help CentraCare use its resources more efficiently, including staff and medical equipment. But he said it will have an impact on local communities.
"Telling someone from Sauk Centre that you are now going to be delivering your baby in Melrose — to the outsider, that seems like an 8-mile drive,” he said. “To the insider … that's a really big deal, because my local facility is having to change and react to help better serve our communities and respond to the COVID-19 surge."
Correction (Nov. 19, 2020): Bryan Bauck’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.
COVID-19 in Minnesota
Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.
The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.
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