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Hospitals facing challenges with COVID-19 and the holidays

Dr. Kyle Ulveling told Local 5 there is a "backlog of non-COVID critical illness" despite fewer daily COVID-19 admissions.

DES MOINES, Iowa — With the holidays approaching fast, there are worries hospitals will not have enough staff to handle another possible surge of COVID-19 cases. 

In Iowa, 26% of hospital beds are currently filled, but there are less than 200 ICU beds available.

In 2020, hospitals and nursing homes were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and virus-related deaths.

Continued COVID caseloads are something that has brought on a brand new set of problems for hospitals across the nation: staffing issues.

 says, Iowa's issues are no different, 

"So by the state's classification, we are able to normally staff so we're not using emergency staffing models, which is a label that the state has come up with, they kind of use a green light yellow light red light system," said Dr. Kyle Ulveling with St. Anthony Regional Hospital in Carroll. "Now, normal staffing levels does not mean fully staffed by any means. We have several open positions in typical clinical key areas like nursing aides, etcetera. So we have a very fulfilling, easy way to get a career right now is to go into a nursing or other health care field."

Back in the start of the pandemic, medical professionals said they were having issues such as needing ICU beds, ventilators and other various medical supplies.

Now the problems are very different. 

"Then in November of 2020, was the beginning of our very difficult surge for inpatients with COVID. So I can tell you in November of 2021, we have far fewer COVID admissions on a daily basis than we did one year ago," Ulveling said. "However, we have such a backlog of non-COVID critical illness that has been building up over the last several months, that it was easier to get a patient to a tertiary care large hospital a year ago, by far than it is, and has been for the last two to three months."

During a typical holiday season pre-COVID, Ulveling said things such as the flu, agricultural accidents, car accidents and heart attacks, are the common reason people in Iowa seek care. 

Other surgeries were prioritized, something he believes has been put on the backburner since the pandemic.

"So there are times when a medical center will have to close their ER, that does not mean they won't take people who drive there, it means that they will divert ambulances to other facilities," Ulveling said. "So I am not aware of any ERs in Iowa that will actually close to people who show up there physically. It is unlikely that our backlog of critical bed necessity will be gone probably before the end of January at the earliest. So in other words, even if COVID went down to nothing this weekend, just to get through the significant backlog of surgeries of other critical illnesses ... we're probably talking about into the New Year before things look normal. As far as you get really sick in a random area of Iowa, you still get to get transferred to a major medical center that day kind of thing."

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