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Doctors, nurses fight COVID and misinformation in rural Minn. hospital

Todd County has the second lowest fully vaccinated rate in the state at 44.2%. One county hospital is being inundated with unvaccinated patients.

TODD COUNTY, Minn. — In the land of silos and steeples, a small, 12-bed CentraCare hospital in Long Prairie is fighting two wars, one with a virus, the other with misinformation.

“I think if you were to just be honest, it sucked for a long time,” said Dr. L.J. McIntosh, a family physician at CentraCare.

Dr. McIntosh came to Todd County fresh off residency not long before the pandemic started. He had no idea what would ensue.

“I've literally had a patient who was ill in the ICU with COVID, survived, but came to see me afterward and was like 'COVID is a hoax.' I'm like, 'OK, I may be in the Twilight Zone. You literally had it, almost died from it, but, yet it's a hoax. OK,'" said McIntosh.

Like most weeks since the delta variant took over, the hospital is full. There are currently three COVID patients, and nowhere to send them should their conditions require intensive care.

“It's not uncommon to call 15 to 20 hospitals looking for an ICU bed, not just Minnesota but surrounding states,” said Stephanie Albers, a nurse manager in the hospital. “We need people to get vaccinated.”

Dr. Daron Gersch is an emergency room physician at CentraCare who says they see about four to five COVID-19 patients per day in Long Prairie.

“In the last six weeks, I can think of one vaccinated patient that I have seen in my ER with COVID,” said Gersch.

The latest data from the state shows unvaccinated COVID patients have been ten times likelier to be hospitalized with the disease. That ratio is shown in every age group over 12 years old.

Dorothy Killian, 82, spent 7 days in the hospital with COVID at the time of our interview. Her husband of 64 years laid in a hospital bed two doors down. Killian said the couple had decided not to get vaccinated.

“God's got a plan. I don't know what it is, but I'll sure help him out if he needs me,” said Killian.

It is this paradox that continues to fill Minnesota hospitals and demoralize hospital staff.

Nurse Practitioner Janelle Terhaar speaks to the burnout so many nurses and doctors describe. Not just long hours and dangerous assignments but the weight that's attached to failure, where your best effort may still lead to death from a disease where most serious cases are mostly preventable.

“I let them know that when you are in the hospital bed, or you are sick, you are coming to us,” said Terhaar. “You aren't coming to the news people or to the government, you are coming to us. So why won't you come to us for advice on how to prevent this?"

Doctors say the typical hospital stay for a COVID patient is three to six weeks compared to the average non-COVID hospital visit that usually lasts three to six days. 

This is a major contributor to the backlog of beds right now.

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