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Local and Regional Healthcare Facilities Working through Significant Patient Volumes & Testing Shortages

September 20, 2021

Anyone seeking healthcare services recently has likely noticed increased wait times, limited appointments, and full parking lots.

“Volumes are very high everywhere, whether it’s in the hospital, emergency department, or your doctor’s office. There isn’t one single illness to blame here, either. We’re seeing high volumes for lots of reasons, including RSV and COVID,” said Cass Health Chief Clinic Administrator Tamara Bireline, ARNP.

As a nurse practitioner, Bireline also works as a frontline provider in the emergency department. She recently noted that both the Cass Health Emergency Department and the AMC Rapid Care clinic have seen record-setting numbers of patients in the last few weeks.

“We are seeing huge numbers of patients, and we’re in the process of increasing our staffing levels. We are adding providers, adding nurses – all measures to help us cope with this increased volume,” said Bireline.

Ronnie Ross, Cass Health Safety Officer and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, holds weekly calls with other hospitals in this region, and has communicated that all the hospitals are working through the same issues.

“We talk weekly with Region 4 SWIPP [Southwest Iowa Preparedness Partners] hospitals to discuss and coordinate the current and future mitigation needs for the surge of patients,” said Ross.

Testing Shortages Continue

“Historically, our influenza, RSV, and COVID supplies have all been provided by the same vendor. Given the continued need for high volumes of COVID-19 testing coupled with the recent increases in RSV cases, testing needs continue to exceed our capacity. We have worked hard to increase our ability to offer COVID-19 testing and have partnered with another vendor to increase our in-house test availability. However, there aren’t a lot of alternative options for influenza and RSV testing for us to bring on that would increase capacity for those tests without compromising the quality of the test. Until vendors are able to increase production to satisfy the increased demand, we expect the availability of influenza and RSV testing to be limited,” said Cass Health Laboratory Director Mitch Whiley.

With a high number of local patients needing testing for respiratory illnesses, the tests have to be prioritized for those who are moderately to severely ill.

“What this means for our patients is that we will be able to test them for COVID-19. If that test comes back negative, and the patient is only mildly ill, then we will likely not recommend or be able to do any further testing to verify RSV or influenza. Because of the shortages on the RSV and influenza tests, we must reserve these tests for those children who are moderately to severely ill because knowing that result may determine the need for admission or transfer to a higher level of care,” said Bireline.

For those patients who test negative for COVID, and who are mildly ill, providers will recommend that they manage their symptoms at home. “Fluids, rest, and over-the-counter medications are still going to be the right prescription, regardless of what the test result may show,” said Bireline.