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Sioux City Hospital Moves Patients Out As County's COVID-19 Cases Grow

Courtesy of UnityPoint Health - St. Lukes Sioux City

As northwest Iowa’s Woodbury County has seen a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, a Sioux City hospital has moved some patients to other nearby hospitals to help expand the number of intensive care unit beds available.

“This proactive move enables us to transition to the next phase of our COVID-19 surge plan and helps alleviate some of the pressures on our frontline team members,” said UnityPoint Health – St. Lukes in a statement Tuesday.

In an email to IPR Wednesday afternoon, UnityPoint Health spokeswoman Leah McInerney said the hospital transferred four patients on Tuesday to another UnityPoint hospital and other regional hospitals. She later elaborated that the other regional hospitals are in Nebraska and South Dakota. McInerney declined to say if the patients that had been transferred out were COVID-19 patients or were fighting another illness, due to patient privacy. McInerny said the hospital is increasing the number of its intensive care unit beds.

“Prior to COVID-19, we had an 18-bed ICU with an average daily census of approximately 10-12 patients,” McInerny said. “Currently, our ICU is a 30-bed dedicated COVID-19 unit with 6 more non-covid ICU beds in another area of the hospital. Our next phase of our plan is to be at 44 ICU beds.”

Woodbury County has a total of 1,426 COVID-19 cases. Last Thursday, the county had 851 cases. The Sioux City metropolitan area, which has more than 2,200 cases, has been the top COVID-19 hotspot in the country with the most cases and deaths for its population, according to the New York Times. Cases in the metro area have been doubling every 8.5 days. 

A joint statement from UnityPoint Health and MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon said the two hospitals are caring for 85 COVID-19 patients. It's unclear how many of those patients are from South Dakota and Nebraska, in addition to Iowa. Local health officials have declined to provide the number of patients at each individual hospital. 

MercyOne Siouxland said Tuesday that it has been planning for a surge in patients.

“We are implementing our surge plan, and the plan is working,” MercyOne Siouxland said in a statement. “We are not at capacity, and it is not our plan to transfer patients.”

MercyOne Siouxland spokeswoman Jenna Rehnstrom elaborated in an email to IPR Thursday, saying "I can tell you that our surge plan allows us to flex our hospital to 150 percent of normal capacity. Evidence that our surge plan is working is that we are not near capacity at this time and do not need to transfer patients out of our facility for care."

Rehnstrom did not respond to questions about how many total beds or ventilators MercyOne Siouxland has and how occupied they are. 

Iowa officials have been coordinating medical care by splitting up the state’s 99 counties into six regions. As of Thursday morning in Region 3, the one that includes Woodbury County and other northwest and west-central Iowa counties, 97 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized and 506 inpatient beds are available. The majority of the patients being hospitalized are in Sioux City.

There are 67 ICU beds available of a total 113 ICU beds. Thirty-five patients are on ventilators and there are 51 ventilators available in Region 3 of Iowa's Regional Medical Coordination Centers as of Thursday morning.

Siouxland District Health Department on Thursday reported three additional deaths due to COVID-19 in Woodbury County. A female age 61-80, a male age 61-80 and a female 81 and older died at local hospitals. Seven Woodbury County residents have died because of COVID-19. 

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.