Skip to main content

Minnesota hospitals diverting patients to combat capacity, staffing shortages

The situation is very dire, according to Minnesota healthcare leaders.

Speaking alongside healthcare leaders Thursday afternoon, Gov. Tim Walz appeared agitated over having to deal with Minnesotans who don't want to follow his executive orders that are aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 and preventing the state's hospitals from being overrun. 

"I get people, [saying] 'well what happens if I'm doing this at 11:58 tomorrow night, what are you going to do?'" said Walz, referring to the new executive orders that go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Friday.

"Probably not a damn thing because I don't want to have to be out there having to do that. If it's not the right thing to protect healthcare workers, don't do it. That's all we're asking," he said.

The situation has become so dire in parts of the state that hospitals are diverting patients to different hospitals just to keep as many ICU beds available for patients who need that level of care, be it for COVID-19 or other illnesses or injuries.

Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith, president and co-CEO at Carris Health, said there were times during the first week-and-a-half of November when Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar was on divert, meaning it could not accept any new patients and all incoming patients were diverted to different hospitals. 

"Patients have been shifted all over this state throughout the last few weeks," said Firkins Smith, adding that it's like playing "musical hospital beds." 

"We're doing it in the entire state. Finding the best place to take care of patients so we have room to take care of the next one," she added. 

A growing fear is that the number of people who need care for all reasons won't get the care they need because there are too many healthcare workers who are ill with COVID-19, quarantining due to an exposure to the virus, or are home taking care of their children because their child care facility has closed because of COVID-19. 

Carris Health, which has hospitals all over west-central Minnesota, is down 10% of its workforce due to the reasons listed above. 

"We've had more than 10% of our staff out. That's 1,200 people for us in rural Minnesota," said Firkins Smith. "We don't have anybody to replace those people. We could have piles of PPE and hundreds of beds and none of that matters if we don't have the people to care for our patients."

Follow Bring Me The News on News Break

She said there's "no calling New York or anyone in the Twin Cities or anywhere in the country for help. It's Minnesota healthcare workers or bust. 

"We're up here to today because we are perilously close to not be able to, even collectively, take care of everybody that we need to take care of in this state," said Dr. Penny Wheeler, president and CEO of Allina Health. 

Wheeler said Allina Health is currently down about 800 employees for COVID-related reasons, which comes on the heals of Mayo Clinic announcing that 905 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks. 

"Don't call healthcare workers heroes if you can't put a piece of cloth or paper over your face to protect them," said Firkins Smith. "We're begging you. Please, wear a mask. Socially distance. Wash your hands. Protect yourself so we can protect you." 

Next Up

nicolas blouin flickr fire hose

Fire departments decry drivers running over hoses, endangering crews

It happened in two separate Northland cities this week.

All Energy Solar - Bringing Panels to Roof

All Energy Solar reaches growth milestones with higher goals yet for 2022

Minnesota solar company continues to thrive through building a strong workforce

Royal Canadian Mounted Police maintoba crossing crop

Authorities ID family found frozen to death at MN-Canada border

They're still trying to unravel how they got there and who might have helped them.


Mayo Clinic specialist: 'The omicron surge is not over'

Experts expect a rapid decline over the next month followed a period of calm.

police lights

Charges: Man in stolen Jeep leads police on 110 mph chase

He crashed into a light post near the Capitol and then fled on foot, the complaint says.

kua dog go fund me

Puppy in back of stolen Audi found, reunited with owner

The 4 1/2-month-old bullmastiff had been missing more than a week.

Fuzzy Gerdes Flickr Franks Diner Kenosha

WI's best 'hole-in-the-wall' diner is Guy Fieri-approved

Come for the "garbage pile," stay for ... even more breakfast food.


Minnesota's pre-pro women's soccer team unveils name, logo

The new name and look was unveiled after community owners voted on a winner.

fentanyl DEA

21 people charged in connection to drug trafficking in northern MN

Police say the organization sold more than 10 pounds of heroin and fentanyl in northern Minnesota.

Band Box Diner Courtney Mault Flickr

MN's 'best hole-in-the-wall diner' is, sadly, currently closed

MSN recently published its pick for best diner in each state.


Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Thursday, January 27

Cases remain very high but hospitalizations have been plateaued for the past week.


coronavirus, nurse

MN hospitals urge Gov. Tim Walz to mandate masks statewide

The MN Hospitals Association says there is a narrow window to slow the spread.

covid nurse

Hospitals hit lowest point of staffed bed availability during pandemic

Not even the massive fall/winter surge in 2020 led to a capacity crisis like this.

covid-19, coronavirus

Health officials: Minnesota hospitals experiencing a 'capacity crisis'

Malcolm called the current capacity crisis for pediatric cases "quite extraordinary."

coronavirus, covid-19

Minnesota Hospital Association: We are out of time to be 'Minnesota Nice'

The group is launching an ad campaign that holds nothing back about the seriousness of the situation in Minnesota hospitals.


Staff shortages putting huge strain on MN hospitals as delta surges

Hospitals are under duress and preventable severe cases of COVID-19 aren't helping.

Governor Tim Walz

Walz issues order allowing churches to reopen at greater capacity

The decision comes after faith leaders planned to defy the state's guidance.