Avera Medical Minute: COVID’s impact across the Avera system

Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 10:46 PM CST
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SOUTH DAKOTA (Dakota News Now) - South Dakota is seeing its highest number of COVID positive cases and patients coming into hospitals.

Health officials saying we are now in our fourth and largest surge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The numbers are increasing and they’re increasing rapidly,” Doug Ekeren, President and CEO of Avera Sacred Heart Hospital. “We expect the numbers will continue to increase just because of the community spread rates we’re seeing all across the region and we’re trying to determine how we’re going to take care of all of those sick people over the course of the next few weeks.”

The next few weeks will be extreme for care facilities across the region. “What we’re being told to expect is as this ramps up is that we will see a peak here in the Yankton, Mitchell, Sioux Falls area, probably in early February, the first week of February,” Ekeren.

While the state’s largest cities will see a majority of those COVID patients, rural facilities will still bear a brunt of the impending surge, with fewer staff and fewer resources.

“Right now we are looking at how we flex up. We have been really flexible about making sure we are cross training getting the right people in the right place so we can meet the need of the day,” SAID Kelli Fischer, Chief Nursing Officer at Avera St. Luke’s Hospital in Aberdeen.

“Our staffing may be a little optimal than we would like. Our volumes are increasing so the demand on our personnel has increased so it’s been stressful but we’ve been doing the best that we can,” said Beth Petersen with Avera Medical Group Pierre.

Avera’s footprint spans five states with 37 hospitals, 215 clinics, and 40 senior living facilities. Since the start of the year, the number of patients in the hospital for COVID has doubled.

That strain on facilities motivated Avera to get innovative in how they care for sick COVID patients.

“Our nurses are all virtual, so our patients can reside anywhere in our footprint. Up to 87 counties is where they are today within our five state area,” said Rhonda Wiering, Vice President of Avera@Home.

Since the Avera@Home COVID Care Transition Program was developed last year, more than 8,000 patients have received treatment from the comfort of their own homes.

“That nurse helps educate the patient, assess how they’re doing. We get them needed medical equipment. Many of our patients get telehealth equipment so they get oximeters and blood pressure cuffs. The program really reassures patients and teaches them how to manage their more serious COVID at home,” said Wiering.

This program is helping to keep more patients from filling hospital beds, which are in short supply right now.

That demand for beds, care, and treatment is only expected to increase, putting further demand on already strained hospital systems and the staff inside.

“Because so many more people are positive now and we expect even more to become positive over the next few weeks, we know that a couple of weeks after that positivity happens is when we see people end up in the hospital. So our concern is if we don’t slow down the spread of this will we have the ability to take care of everybody who comes?” said Ekeren.

Slowing the spread of the virus is more important right now than it’s ever been.

“First and foremost make sure you’re vaccinated, and if you are eligible for the booster vaccine, get the booster as well,” said Petersen.

Getting vaccinated against the coronavirus helps make the jobs of frontline workers a little bit easier. Their dedication throughout this pandemic unwavering, as they brace for yet another surge.

“They do this day in and day out they work long hours, multiple days and they keep coming back and every one of them brings their game face and their heart on their sleeves to take care of our patients,” said Fischer.

Health experts say they expect to a sharp rise in Omicron cases in the next couple weeks followed by a sharp decline by spring. For more information on COVID-19 head over to

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