SIOUX FALLS S.D. (KELO) — Avera Health has 37 hospitals in five states that are ready to take care of patients with COVID-19, said Dr. Kevin Post, the chief medical officer for the Avera Medical Group.

“We as a health care system do have a surge plan in place for the situation we find ourselves in now,” Post said.

It’s possible that a COVID-19 patient could be cared for in any one of the locations, depending on where they live and the patient’s condition, Post said.

“Depending on the severity of their illness, it may require a transfer to one of larger regional sites if it would require a higher level of care…,” Post said.

Yet all providers are trained to provide the highest level of care they are able to at their facilities, Post said.

“Say we have a patient in in a small town in rural South Dakota, say Gregory, South Dakota. That patient, depending on their severity of illness, they may just stay right in Gregory and get high quality care from their health care professional close to home. And that’s the ideal situation,” Post said.

If conditions require it, the patient may be transferred to a higher level of care, for example, at Avera Sacred Heart in Yankton, Post said. When the patient improves enough, the patient could be transferred back to their local area, he said.

The surge plan requires those involved to be willing and aware of the need to move people around to provide the appropriate care for the appropriate patient, Post said.

When a patient is in a different facility than expected, it does not mean the facility is full but that a patient may be more appropriately taken care of in another Avera facility, Post said.

Avera McKennan tends to have severe patients, but in general, Sioux Falls patients would be in McKennan because they live in that region, Post said.

As to the regional locations of Aberdeen, Mitchell, Yankton and Marshall, Minnesota, Avera tries to keep patients in those locations, he said. But more severe patients may need to be transferred to Avera McKennan.

Most hospitals “have dedicated areas for COVID as much as possible,” Post said. Yet, cases of COVID can be developed in other patients such as in OB, he said.

Another option in the Avera surge plan is to care for COVID-19 patients at home.

Post said a patient who may have pneumonia but has improved to only needing supplemental oxygen can recover at home with monitoring by health care providers.

It’s better for that patient, it reduces the risk of infection to the patient and “it helps free up hospital beds for those that need it,” Post said.

Avera had developed a pandemic plan before COVID-19 arrived but did make changes in that plan.

“We had a basic plan in place from prior incidents like H1N1,” Post said. “However, throughout March and April we did extensive work on this plan due to what appeared the severity of this pandemic and the higher patient volumes that it would drive,” Post said.

Post said the plan has fostered additional collaboration within the Avera Health system, which will continue after the pandemic.

The plan also includes working with other health partners such as Sanford and Monument along with the state, Post said. The pandemic has resulted in a coordinated effort to address the pandemic, Post said.

Sanford Health’s Dr. Mike Wilde, vice president medical officer at Sanford Health, said in a Sept. 22 KELOLAND News story part of the organization’s pandemic plan was to handle the existing surge in COVID-19 patients included caring for adults in the Sanford children’s hospital or Children’s Castle if necessary.

“Sanford Health has plans in place for patient volume surges for a variety of scenarios, including COVID-19,” Wilde said in a Sept. 22 statement to KELOLAND News. “When appropriate, patients can be moved to various wings and locations on our medical center campus. Sometimes, pediatric patients can overflow into adult patient sections, or, when appropriate, adult patients can be cared for within our children’s hospital. This is all common practice for any health system.”

Sanford did not to respond to a KELOLAND News request after Sept. 22 to provide additional details of a pandemic plan for this story before publication.

The South Dakota Department of Health posts hospital bed capacity in the state each day on its website. This is from Sept. 25.

Post acknowledged the public may be having concerns about capacity at health care facilities in the state.

Avera Health and its locations are not at capacity when it comes to non-COVID-19 or COVID-19 patients, Post said.

“We are not at capacity. What we are doing is hopefully making wise decisions using prudence and discretion to be able to maintain high quality care for all patients, not just COVID and infection related, but also to continue to do the care we do every day when it comes to surgical care, elective care (and others),” Post said.

South Dakota Department of Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon said during a Sept. 24 news briefing that the state was not at capacity in terms of hospital beds.

Post said he was appreciative of the public’s support so far. He also asked for continued public support for safety measures such as wearing masks, practicing good hygiene and social distancing to help health systems manage the caseloads.