FARGO — Sanford Health in Fargo is working with a nearby nursing home to send some hospital patients there to recover in order to free up beds as it deals with surging admissions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sanford has an arrangement with the Good Samaritan Society in Arthur, N.D., which has opened a nursing home wing to have available so patients can leave the hospital and continue their recovery.

The arrangement, which involves a 24-bed wing in the nursing home, comes as Sanford continues to face high numbers of inpatients as the coronavirus pandemic overlaps with other illnesses and injuries requiring hospital care.

“We’ve just had very high capacity in the hospital,” Dr. Doug Griffin, Sanford’s chief medical officer, said Wednesday, Nov. 11. Sanford owns Good Samaritan Society, which started in Arthur and now is based in Sioux Falls, S.D.

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Being able to send some hospital patients to continue their recuperation at the nursing home in Arthur will give Sanford greater flexibility in coping with high patient volumes, Griffin said.

“It just gives us another place to get these patients on the journey to recovery and out of the hospital quicker,” he said.

The arrangement potentially could include patients infected with COVID-19, he said. Good Samaritan Society is bringing in staff from other locations to handle the hospital patients sent from Sanford.

“This is a first,” Griffin said of the collaboration with the Good Samaritan Society home in Arthur, and could provide a template for future partnerships.

Sanford also has stepped up its surge plan to review elective surgery cases among other steps to keep beds available as the region continues to battle surging coronavirus infections.

“We are continuing with surgical procedures already scheduled and are reviewing new cases for appropriate placement,” said Bryan Nermoe, president of Sanford’s Fargo region.

Also, he added, “We are reassigning some clinic staff to work in our medical centers. This may mean some clinic appointments will be shifted.”

Sanford has no plans to allow nurses who are infected by the coronavirus but showing no symptoms to work in COVID-19 wards, Griffin said.

Sanford is, however, adding beds and making more beds available for COVID-19 patients.

At Sanford Broadway Medical Center in downtown Fargo, where COVID-19 patients are treated, Sanford is opening 35 beds on the sixth floor. Sanford has space to allocate up to 200 beds for COVID-19 patients at its Broadway Medical Center.

At Sanford Medical Center, near Interstate 94 and Veterans Boulevard, 14 new beds under construction will be ready within two weeks, Nermoe said.

Sanford and other hospitals around North Dakota also are scrambling to hire traveling nurses, but they’re in high demand and command premium pay to attract. Also, some are available only for short stints and do not renew their contracts.

“We literally have hundreds of contract nurses right now — some renew, some don’t,” Sanford spokesman Darren Huber said. “Like most hospitals, we are recruiting more. Our focus is on supplementing our existing nurses with contract staff to make sure our team has the support they need to provide great care for the growing number of patients we are caring for.”

Traveling nurses are expensive. The going rate for a nurse with experience in intensive care units is $175 per hour, said Dr. David Field, a Bismarck physician who testified Tuesday, Nov. 10, in support of a mask mandate in Mandan, N.D. Non-ICU nurses command $145 per hour and certified nursing assistants are being hired at $90 per hour, he said.

“That shows the stress,” Field told Mandan city commissioners, who voted 3-2 to pass a mask mandate without penalty that will be in force for a month, the latest local mandate in the state.

Sanford Health's downtown Fargo campus is seen March 29, 2018. Forum file photo
Sanford Health's downtown Fargo campus is seen March 29, 2018. Forum file photo

"Our hospitals are doing the best they can, our public health officials are doing the best they can, but we're losing this battle," Field said. Sanford, he said, recently had a census of 120 COVID-19 patients in Fargo.

As of Wednesday in Fargo, Essentia Health had one staffed intensive care bed and no other staffed hospital beds available, while Sanford had three staffed ICU beds and five staffed non-ICU beds available. Statewide, 12 ICU beds and 182 non-ICU beds, most in remote rural locations, were available, according to state figures.

Other hospitals around the state also are taking steps similar to those by Sanford as they implement surge plans, said Tim Blasl, president of the North Dakota Hospital Association.

Those measures typically include scaling back on elective surgeries and procedures to keep beds available, shifting clinical nurses and staff to hospitals, and aggressively recruiting traveling nurses, he said.

“Everyone’s looking at their surge plans,” Blasl said. Large hospitals also are transferring some of their less acute cases to rural hospitals to keep beds open, he said. About 20% of the state's hospital patients have COVID-19, he said.

“I think right now hospitals are managing the situation,” Blasl said. “Now, I can’t speak to eight weeks from now, six weeks from now.”

An update on steps Essentia Health in Fargo is taking to handle the patient surge was not available on Wednesday.