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Latest COVID surge brings challenges to RLMC, across the nation

The latest surge of COVID-19 cases is creating new concerns for hospitals across the state and nation, including Rainy Lake Medical Center.  

When the pandemic began nearly two years ago, challenges centered around lack of personal protective equipment, ventilators and hospital beds. Now, the concern in Borderland and beyond is staffing. 

“The pandemic has put a massive strain on our human capital, resulting in about 20 percent of health care leaders leaving the field since COVID-19 began two years ago,” said RLMC CEO Robb Pastor. “The real shortage also continues to get worse. It’s estimated that 17,500 health care workers left their jobs last month nationwide due to fatigue, burnout, job stress, and retirement.  Studies also show that another 30 percent are considering a career change, which continues the cycle of causing additional worry and stress to those of us who are still working to take care of our community.” 

And as the entire RLMC organization continues to feel the strain of COVID, at the peak is the emergency department.  

Pastor and other officials this week requested patients keep non-emergency related health concerns out of the emergency room to allow priority be given to those needing immediate medical attention.  

“If you are experiencing any sort of life-threatening illness or injury, you should immediately call 911. However, if you’re experiencing a minor illness or injury, you should look at other options besides visiting the emergency department right now,” Pastor said. “Our system is very taxed and you will likely wait a long time.” 

In the past, it’s been manageable when community members come to the emergency room for minor things, such as a sprained ankle.  

This is no longer the case. 

“In the event that you come to the emergency department and our physician determines your injury or illness doesn’t require immediate attention, we may discharge you and ask you to follow up with your primary care provider or one of the clinics in town,” Pastor said. 

The request is not unique to RLMC.  

News reports highlight that nearly all hospitals are filled close to capacity right now, which means beds may not even be available anywhere in Minnesota or surrounding states. 

“Our emergency department staff may have to take care of very ill patients for 12 hours or more, until a bed can be found,” Pastor said. “This is why we need the emergency department reserved for major illnesses and injuries.”  

In the midst of ongoing stress, Pastor praised RLMC staff for continuing to push through the pandemic. 

“Our heroes here at Rainy Lake Medical Center have been working extremely hard to meet all of the current demands for nearly two years now,” he said. “They go above and beyond to ensure we’re meeting our mission of providing accessible, high-quality healthcare to our communities. However, the current pace isn’t sustainable and we need the community’s support.” 

COVID vaccines 

In the past week, Koochiching County has seen 63 newly-reported cases of the virus. Of those eligible in the county to get vaccinated, only 54.4 percent have received one dose. 

“We encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” Pastor said, adding 85 percent of RLMC staff have received the vaccine. “We also encourage everyone to get a booster when they are able to, to ensure maximum immunity. Please follow our Facebook page for announcements related to vaccine availability and scheduling.” 

Pastor urged community members to remember everyone is likely exhausted in some way or another by the ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic. 

“We are all in this together,” he said. “We’re eager for life to return to more normal, but we know we can’t get there unless we continue to take this pandemic seriously. Please wear your masks, practice good hand hygiene and distance when possible. Please share your gratitude to the dedicated heroes on our staff. Your continued patience and understanding is greatly appreciated. We will continue to be here for you, 24/7/365.  Thank you for allowing us the privilege to care for you and your families.” 


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