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West Burlington hospital says beds are full, staff are overwhelmed

At Southeast Iowa Regional Medical Center, staff says teenagers are being hospitalized with Covid, beds are always filled, and transfers are going further than ever.

WEST BURLINGTON, Iowa — Across Iowa, the 7-day COVID positivity average is hovering around 9%. But in Des Moines County, that number is nearly doubled, at 16%. At Southeast Iowa Regional Medical Center, the trend is overwhelming both staff and resources. 

Dr. Michael McCoy, Chief Medical Officer for Great River Health System, says the region had about 20 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning. The majority of those patients, he said, are unvaccinated. 

"Our ICU beds are full every day. And it's not that we don't sometimes have beds, but we don't have staffed beds," he said. "That's what a lot of hospitals in our entire region are finding, is we don't have staffed beds." 

Dr. McCoy says the lack of beds is forcing the hospital to do things never attempted before COVID, including how far they're transferring patients. 

"You've got hospitals communicating with each other like they've never done before, trying to find where beds are. We're sending patients to areas that we've never sent patients to before. Likewise, this region's getting requests from patients for areas that they've never had requests before, because there just aren't staffed beds," he said. "We've requested transfers as far away as St. Louis, up in Minnesota, the states surrounding us, Chicago." 

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Throughout the region, Dr. McCoy says anyone would be hard pressed to find an open ICU bed. Every day, he says his staff are calling area hospitals, figuring out who's got what, where, and when it's available. 

It's why the hospital has begun transferring out patients who aren't as critically sick, to smaller healthcare systems they normally wouldn't transfer to, simply to open up beds for patients with more acute needs. 

"It's really hard on all the staff because they're all used to providing the standard of care that everybody's used to - and they all expect and deserve," he said. 

It nearly evokes a sense of déjà vu for surges of last fall and winter, except for one key difference. 

"At that time, we had the staff," said Dr. McCoy. "More times it was a concern if we were gonna run out of beds. Now, almost universally, it's the staffed bed we don't have. We don't have the staff. That's what's limiting us." 

Southeast Iowa Regional Medical Center is not currently requiring vaccines for its employees. However, Great River Health System, which umbrellas over the regional center, says it has 250 open positions. At ideal conditions, the system would have around 2,100 workers. 

But beyond staffing woes, Dr. McCoy says the rise in COVID patients - especially young ones - cannot be ignored. In the county, just over a third of all new COVID cases are being recorded in children, 17 years old or younger. 

RELATED: Children account for a third of all Covid cases in Iowa's Des Moines County

"In our pediatric wing we're getting pediatric admissions now. We weren't used to having those before," he said. "I think what we're seeing is the vulnerable part of the population that haven't yet been able to get the vaccine." 

He confirmed there have even been cases of teenagers hospitalized with COVID-19, ending up in the pediatric unit. 

"Right now our hospitals are full, our emergency rooms are being overwhelmed, we're trying to take care of patients in ways we never have before. We’re trying to surge them in areas that aren’t used to seeing patients. None of the staff are used to doing this and we’re trying to figure it out as we go, so we can take the best care of patients that we can, with the limited staff that we have," said Dr. McCoy. 

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