SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare systems have been hit hard by the virus. Among the largest healthcare systems in the state, Sanford, Avera and Monument, issues of staffing and capacity have been constant challenges. But these issues are not exclusive to large hospitals.

Prairie Lake Healthcare System is a licensed 81 bed acute care hospital located in Watertown, serving a 9 county area northeast South Dakota and western Minnesota.

“The impact of COVID to smaller hospitals like Prairie Lakes Healthcare System can be very similar to larger tertiary facilities,” said Shelly Turbak, Chief Nursing Officer for Prairie Lakes. “It’s just relative based on your size and the services you’re able to provide.”

Turbak said her health system is seeing a higher than normal flow of inpatient visitors, as well as more complex issues. “And of course, the emergency room remains busy as well,” she added.

The increase in patients isn’t all COVID-19 related according to Turbak, “but COVID definitely strains the resources,” she said. “Care of COVID patients takes additional resources — but we are also seeing patients with many other health conditions.”

Ono particular challenge that has arisen with COVID-19 is the inability to always be able to transfer patients to larger facilities. “It doesn’t happen like it used to,” she said. “They don’t always have a bed open at those larger facilities, so we do keep some of those patients while we wait for that bed.”

In terms of ICU capacity, Prairie Lakes again sees issues similar to those of larger systems. “Our ICU capacity is full or near full on a daily basis,” said Turbak.

Staffing issues are also a challenge, as with other systems. [Staffing challenges] are very real for rural hospitals as well,” said Turbak. “We have a smaller number of staff, so you have less staff to go around.”

Turbak says one function of this lower staff number is that many staff members are cross-trained to fill multiple roles.

Overall, going into the holiday season with the Omicron variant now confirmed in South Dakota, Turbak urged caution. “Avoid large groups of people that you aren’t normally around,” she said. “Consider wearing masks. Wash your hands; stay home if you’re sick — don’t expose people unnecessarily.”