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COVID-19 Update

  • Category: News
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Bob Bjoin
COVID-19 Update

HARLAN – COVID-19 hospitalizations at Myrtue Medical Center in Harlan as well as in the Omaha metro area are increasing to the point where medical officials are asking local residents to take public health guidelines seriously, to mitigate the risk of full hospitals and unavailable patient beds.

While Myrtue Medical currently has an average daily census of 10-15 patients in its critical access, 25-bed hospital, half of those this week are COVID-19 related, being isolated in one wing of the hospital that has nine beds dedicated to the treatment of COVID positive patients.

Hospitals in the Des Moines and Omaha metro areas are seeing higher numbers, the effect of which eventually will trickle down to rural hospitals like Myrtue Medical, officials say.

“Transfers are becoming much more difficult to metro hospitals as they are either full or close to capacity,” said Myrtue Chief Executive Officer Barry Jacobsen.

Sumit Mukherjee, MD, pulmonary and critical care provider at Myrtue Medical/Methodist Physicians, said the prevalence of COVID-19 has drastically increased heading into the Thanksgiving holiday.

Mukherjee is featured in a video on Myrtue Medical’s website (, calling for more considerations by Shelby County residents to take this disease seriously.

“We are concerned about the capacity of the hospitals in the metro area as well as here in Harlan,” Mukherjee said. “We are nearly at capacity around the Omaha metro area. My fear is going into the holidays this will continue to get significantly worse.”

Mukherjee is caring for several patients with critical illness from COVID-19, and his patients have significant respiratory failure requiring high amounts of oxygen. They have difficulty breathing during intensive care unit (ICU) stays, and it’s heartbreaking to see the isolation from families.

“Providing medical care they need has been a huge challenge,” he said. “I am very concerned about the increase in the number of hospitalizations. It has been overwhelming for the hospital systems as of this week moving into Thanksgiving.”

At Myrtue

While Myrtue is yet to be at capacity, the number of COVID-19 patients is rising to require additional considerations past the nine-bed isolation wing. The wing was initially identified as the best option to separate COVID-19 patients from other hospitalized patients to protect them from the virus.

Jacobsen said if needed, the hospital will expand availability. All of the current COVID-19 dedicated rooms have oxygen demands for patients including ventilators, of which Myrtue has four available for patient use.

“We are leveraging all of our resources and strategically planning to ensure the best care for our patients,” said Jacobsen. “We have not reached full capacity as of yet; however, with the cases rising and as the transfers to city hospitals become more difficult, this is a major concern.”

Myrtue Medical is doing its part. All patients who enter the facility are screened and temperatures are taken. “Any individuals who screen positive are directed to an isolated area and evaluated by a nurse,” explained Karen Buman, chief nursing officer.

“Known potential COVID patients are either evaluated in their vehicle or taken immediately to an isolated room. All staff wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Patients with severe symptoms are evaluated and cared for in the emergency department in an isolated room.”

If patients have severe illness upon admission, they are evaluated and can be transferred to the city anytime during the course of their care.

Getting worse

COVID-19 is expected to get worse heading into the holidays. While everyone is fatigued and battling through difficult times -- tired of dealing with the virus -- it’s time to advocate for each other, public health, and health care officials.

Buman said the hospital is asking everyone to do their part to advocate for the community by being socially responsible.

“We can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by practicing common preventative measures,” Buman said. “Social distancing, washing hands, staying home when ill and wear your mask.

“Seek medical care early to prevent more severe illness.”

Added Mukherjee, “We have good data, good evidence to support the use of masks.” Cases are lower in areas of the country where masks are being worn.

“Be respectful of those in the community who particularly are at greatest risk of developing this infection and complications from this infection,” he added.

Shelby Countians with severe symptoms should be evaluated by a medical professional. Ideally the individual should call to prepare staff at Myrtue, but this is not always feasible.

The Myrtue nurses are available at 712-755-5130.

Signs/symptoms of COVID-19: runny nose, fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea.