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Avera looks at adding hospital beds

MARSHALL — While there were still no officially confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Lyon County as of Monday, the planning process to deal with the disease continues for area medical workers.

In addition to having stricter limits on hospital visitors, Avera Marshall Medical Center is also considering other preparations, like expanding the number of hospital beds.

On Monday, Avera Marshall communications coordinator Stacy Neubeck said the hospital is looking for ways to increase bed capacity — not because the additional beds are needed now, but in case the hospital sees a sudden increase in patients.

“We’re doing some advanced planning in case we would have a surge in capacity in the future,” she said. Avera Marshall is licensed for 25 beds, she said. However, under the recent national emergency declaration for COVID-19, critical access hospitals have had their bed limits waived.

Some of the possibilities Avera Marshall is looking at include converting areas of the hospital that were used for inpatient care in the past back over to patient beds, Neubeck said.

Other area Avera hospitals in the area are licensed for about the same number of beds as Avera Marshall, or fewer. Avera Granite Falls is licensed for 25 beds, and Avera Tyler is licensed for 20 beds.

According to the Minnesota Hospital Association, most hospitals across the state are small. A total of 110 hospitals are licensed for under 100 beds, the MHA said on its website.

If Avera Marshall were to have more patients than it had capacity for, Neubeck said it will need to work together with other hospitals to move patients to other facilities that could give them the needed level of care for their condition.

Avera Marshall is continuing to prepare for COVID-19, together with area hospitals including Avera Granite Falls, Avera Tyler and Hendricks Community Hospital.

“We’re really planning cooperatively with Avera facilities in our region,” as well as with the Avera system, Neubeck said.

Health care providers like Avera Marshall are also conserving supplies to help make sure protective equipment like masks are available if needed for COVID-19. The Avera system announced last week that it is postponing some elective surgical procedures to help save protective equipment and beds for the fight against COVID-19.

“Our physicians are working to balance patient safety and quality with the resources available. These resources include protective equipment like gowns and masks and intensive care beds,” said Dr. Kevin Post, chief medical officer for Avera Medical Group. “We emphasize that we are looking to postpone procedures, rather than canceling them altogether.”

While there haven’t been confirmed cases yet, Neubeck said there have been people within Avera Marshall’s service region who have had specimens collected for COVID-19 testing.

Lauren Mellenthin, emergency preparedness coordinator for Southwest Health and Human Services, said the agency is still working to educate people about COVID-19, as cases continue to be reported in more Minnesota counties.

“We know that more than likely, it’s going to happen soon,” that a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in the area, she said. SWHHS is doing public health education about executive orders from the Minnesota Governor, and on helping people stay healthy in the workplace.

Limiting exposure to the coronavirus, through hand-washing and avoiding close physical contact, is still key for members of the public, she said.

“That’s where public health has been involved, is education on social distancing,” Mellenthin said.

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