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Willmar medical community strained by exhaustion, staffing shortages; people in the community could help them out

Willmar's Rice Memorial Hospital has had to divert some COVID-19 patients in the past few months, often because of low staffing levels due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The need to divert patients may not last long, sometimes as little as a few hours. If people in the community follow basic precautions and forgo large holiday gatherings, it could help ease the situation.

Mike Schramm, Carris Health-Rice Memorial Hospital Co-CEO

WILLMAR — This past weekend and several times in recent months, Carris Health-Rice Memorial Hospital has had to divert patients with COVID-19 to other facilities in the state.

It’s a fluid situation which may not last long, maybe just a few hours, and it’s often based on the number of skilled people available to care for patients.

Carris Health officials have scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. Wednesday to provide more information about the hospital's response to the latest surge in patients. They also will be joined by Kandiyohi County officials to discuss the COVID-19 situation overall in the county, including hospitalizations.

“It isn’t space, or beds, or even (personal protective equipment),” Co-CEO Mike Schramm said Tuesday in an interview with the West Central Tribune. “The challenge is the number of staff.”

Staff members may be ill, caring for loved ones who are ill or they may be at home in quarantine.


Staff members are also exhausted, “but they are resilient and really have stepped up,” he said.

Schramm said he knows many people are weary of the restrictions of living through the coronavirus pandemic, but “we really need the community to step up and play its part.”

Health care workers are there to take care of the community, and the community can return the favor by following the three rules of wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing.

When it comes to the holidays, the health care community is urging families to forgo large gatherings. “We are stressing the importance of thinking differently about how families can connect with one another,” Schramm said.

The number of COVID-19 patients now is much higher than it was in the first surge of cases in May, Schramm said.

A significant portion of the hospital’s patient census, at times nearly half, is made up of people with COVID-19.

The Willmar medical community had paused elective surgeries earlier this year and resumed them in the summer.

The hospital has maintained a balance of “providing the much needed services and care for our patients, as well as being prepared for COVID patients,” Schramm said.


“It’s important for the community to know that our facilities are safe, and we take every step to ensure that our facilities are safe,” he added. “When people come in, it’s a safe environment to do so.”

The staff situation does not affect the readiness of the hospital Emergency Department which never locks its doors and cares for every patient, Schramm said.

Emergency care will always be provided, and “we will triage and transfer them to an appropriate facility if we don’t admit,” he said.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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