14 more South Dakotans have died due to COVID-19. The number of active cases is nearing 14,000. While hospitalizations set new records, the South Dakota Department of Health is reporting that nearly 40 percent of staffed ICU beds are still available.

But that isn’t what ICU doctors and nurses in one of the state’s largest hospitals are seeing.

Pulmonologist, Dr. Anthony Hericks, is Director of Critical Care for Avera McKennan Hospital

Week after week, the number of patients needing intensive care at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls has grown. At the same time, plenty of staff are out sick, many with coronavirus cases due to community spread of COVID-19. It’s the perfect storm to stress doctors and nurses and other health care personnel to the limit.

“You have the normal people sick with heart disease, liver disease, lung disease, whatever reason they would normally come to the hospital. Now you add a very debilitating, very critical illness on top of it, and then you get into flu season. Now the pace of the marathon has picked up and can we withstand the intensity and pace we are doing, while keeping mental and physical health?” Dr. Herick’s said.

SD Dept. of Health COVID-19 Staffed Bed Capacity on 11/04/2020

While the Department of Health puts out staffed hospital bed capacity across the state, Dr. Hericks says that doesn’t paint a picture of what’s really happening in the hospital.

“You can look at the Department of Health website and they can talk about bed capacity, and they can talk about ICU beds and staffed beds and things like that. But when we talk about bed capacity, what we’re talking about is one code bed. So if somebody has a cardiac arrest in the hospital, we try to keep one of those beds available and one ICU bed. There were at least 3-4 people competing for those beds yesterday,” Dr. Hericks said.

“ICU beds like other hospital beds do see a turnover of patients and I think what you’re describing there is true. There’s fluctuations day to day on overall capacity and it does reflect the fact that people come in and out of those beds,” SD Secretary of Health, Kim Malsam-Rysdon, said.

Those on the front lines see the randomness of how this virus affects people of all ages and are frustrated by their inability to help heal more people.

“But we have some people that just get really sick. We don’t know why. We just provide standard medical treatment. There is no magic bullet to fix this and cure this,” Dr. Herick said.

Health workers caring for a critically ill COVID-19 patients at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls

Coming up on Wednesday’s Eye on KELOLAND, we hear from Dr. Hericks just how full the hospital really is and the emotional and physical toll it is taking on health care workers.

Plus we hear from a new ICU nurse who never imagined she’d be on the front lines of a pandemic.