'We are in a crisis': Fargo hospital slammed with COVID cases

a hospital building and parking lot
The Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, N.D.
Matt Mikus | MPR News

A top Sanford Health official says the system is in crisis as COVID-19 and non-COVID patients fill its wards.

"We do believe that here in Fargo, we're probably about two to three weeks away from peaking in terms of COVID cases. But we're already at capacity and have been for a few weeks now due to our overall non-COVID census being very high,” said Dr. Doug Griffin, vice president and chief medical officer at Sanford Health in Fargo.

Griffin said Sanford in Fargo is decreasing surgical capacity by 30 percent in response. The reduction in medical procedures comes as hospitals in Minnesota are already operating within tight margins. 

While the majority of hospital beds, including intensive care unit beds, are occupied by people without COVID-19, 208 people are in the ICU with the virus and 540 are in the hospital getting care for COVID across the state. 

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That’s still well below the pandemic’s high watermark in the fall of last year.

Right now, there are 37 people in the Fargo facility with COVID-19, and that number could reach 90 patients based on the hospital's projections that predict that case counts will peak in the next couple of weeks, said Griffin. 

Overall, there are 141 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the entire Sanford system, with 48 of those patients in the ICU. The vast majority are unvaccinated. 

Griffin said most of their COVID patients are local or coming from western North Dakota, where vaccination rates remain low. Griffin said the hospital is turning away patients who need critical care, some from as far away as southern Minnesota. 

Griffin said staffing shortages are also a factor in the capacity crunch. Sanford is offering financial incentives to attract and keep workers, including nurses, but also respiratory therapists and patient services personnel. 

"We are frequently calling staff, offering large amounts of incentives for them to work extra. We are basically scouring for [all the] travel nurses we can get,” he said.