Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital

Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital is pictured on Aug. 12.

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Ten National Guard members are on their way to help Bozeman Health amid a statewide surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases, according to the governor’s office.

The guard members could arrive as soon as this weekend. Sixty other National Guard members will be allocated across the state to assist other hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.

The members will support staffing with non-medical ICU assistance, environmental services, patient data entry and COVID-19 testing, according to a press release from Gov. Greg Gianforte.

“While these guardsmen will help ease the heavy burden our frontline health workers face,” Gianforte said in the release, “the best long-term solution to this crisis is for Montanans to talk with their doctor or pharmacist and get vaccinated.”

Bozeman Health requested National Guard help last week, saying it was reaching capacity with COVID-19 hospitalizations and was facing an “imminent move” to crisis standards of care — which rations care for some patients based on their likelihood for survival.

Hospital spokesperson Lauren Brendel said in an emailed response that the hospital plans to use guard members for environmental services — which focuses on cleaning and sanitizing hospital beds and other parts of the hospital — helping with patient transport and ambulation and entrance screening for employees and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms.

Some members would also help during vaccine booster clinics, she said.

The National Guard last assisted Bozeman Health during its initial vaccine clinics in the spring and with helping screen hospital employees and visitors, Brendel said.

“Bozeman Health is grateful for Montana National Guard support,” Brendel wrote. She said the hospital did not know an exact date for the guard’s arrival.

Several other hospitals in Montana declared — or stopped just short of declaring — crisis standards of care last week, citing the sharp upward curve in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Hospitals in Helena, Billings, Butte and Missoula will also receive members from National Guard.

Montana ranked the third highest in the nation for number of cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 485 per 100,000.

The state lagged behind West Virginia and Alaska, which ranked first and second, respectively. Idaho ranked fourth.

On Wednesday, Montana neared 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. The last time the state broke 10,000 active cases was in late October.

With 9,976 active cases Wednesday, 377 people were hospitalized. Statewide, 1,901 people have died. Fifty-four of those deaths have occurred during the last seven days.

On Tuesday, the Gallatin City-County Health Department reported 32 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 780 active cases countywide. Sixty-nine people in the county have died due to complications related to COVID-19.

As of Friday afternoon, Deaconess Hospital had 27 COVID-19 patients and the ICU was at 90% capacity.

The CDC and the county health department both recommend mask use for everyone in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status, in an effort to curb the rise in infections.

Bozeman Health announced last Wednesday that it’s planning to implement portions of its surge plan, including creating an extra ward for COVID-19 patients.

The surge unit at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital is expected to be ready by Wednesday, Kallie Kujawa, Bozeman Health’s COVID-19 incident commander, said Friday.

The surge unit could hold up to eight more COVID-19 patients. The critical care unit at Deaconess Hospital has 20 beds. Overall, the hospital has 125 beds, ten of which are Newborn Intensive Care Unit beds for infants.

“Our current situation is not good. Our physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists are exhausted,” Kujawa said Friday.

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or jsukut@dailychronicle.com

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