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Hospitals are already overcrowded – and now they're dealing with injuries from ice

Slips and falls are common during the winter, but this year, it's contributing to the overloading of hospitals.

MINNEAPOLIS — It's that time of year again when you've got to watch your step.

HCMC in downtown Minneapolis is among the many facilities seeing their usual increase in slip-and-fall injuries, due to the snowy and icy winter conditions. Dr. Stephen Smith, an emergency physician with Hennepin Healthcare, said these patients have flooded into the Emergency Department for roughly the past month.

"Lots of fractures. Lots of wrist fractures, especially. Ankle fractures. People fall and hit their head," Smith said. "Falls, in general, even without the ice, are one of the most common things we see."

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 800,000 patients are hospitalized every year because of falls, often impacting older people. Falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.

"And when ice season comes, it's that much more likely to happen," Smith said. "even among young healthy people."

Credit: KARE 11

It's certainly nothing new for emergency departments to see more people slipping and falling during the winter season. 

However, this year, Smith said these injuries are adding to an already extreme workload, as hospitals across the country experience a crisis in capacity. As the pandemic and other seasonal illnesses continue to fill hospital beds, there are also widespread staffing shortages.

Just this week, a Hennepin Healthcare physician penned an Op-Ed in the Star Tribune, titled: "On health care front lines, we are not OK."

"The entire country is overloaded with emergency medicine patients. Many acute care nurses quit the job during COVID. Hospitals can't discharge patients to nursing homes because the nursing homes are full, the group homes are full, psychiatry inpatient is full, and the hospitals can't discharge patients. We can't get patients upstairs, so our ED is full of patients who need to be admitted," Smith said. "And this is true for every department across the cities and the country. It's a national problem."

Smith said that HCMC has had to turn down some transfer patients from other hospitals – transfers they would normally accommodate, if not for capacity shortages.

"And now we have all these people slipping and falling," Smith said, "and that just adds to the overcrowding."

Smith offered a few suggestions to avoid falls: Outfit your shoes with traction cleats like Yaktrax, clear your walks and driveway, and add strength exercises to your routine to improve your balance.

Hennepin Healthcare also published this guide in December about how to "walk like a penguin" in icy conditions. 

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