St. Patrick Hospital Addresses Unexpected COVID-19 Surge and Need for Vaccines

St. Patrick patient, young boy, being examined by female health worker

Photo Credit: St. Patrick Hospital

St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana, part of the Providence Health System, knows that not all COVID-19 surges look the same. For the rural hospital, 30-plus COVID-19 patients would have been unimaginable even during the peak of the pandemic. But it wasn’t until August 2021 when the hospital hit that number — which was near capacity. At the same time, the ages of the patients were getting younger and younger.

Suddenly and without warning, the hospital was admitting six and seven COVID-19 patients a day. It was a situation the hospital had never experienced before.

In a StatNews article, Joyce Dombrouski, chief executive at St. Patrick Hospital, said, “Our median age has dropped to the mid-40s, and at the start of the pandemic, it was between 70 and 80.” Dombrouski went on to explain that about 90% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated.

Dan Pierce, M.D., an emergency medicine specialist at St. Patrick Hospital, spoke with NBC News Montana about the importance of getting vaccinated. He said, “The overwhelming number of unvaccinated patients with COVID are being triaged in the ambulance bay. Our message: GET VACCINATED!"

Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found unvaccinated Americans were 11 times more likely to die from the coronavirus compared to fully immunized people who contracted COVID-19. The CDC analysis also found unvaccinated adults were 19 times more likely to be hospitalized compared to people who are fully vaccinated. The gap was wider for older adults who aren’t vaccinated; people between 50 and 64 were 31 times more likely to be hospitalized. Unvaccinated people over 65 were 16 times more likely to end up in the hospital.

More recently, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has fallen in the Missoula County area. But the test positivity rate in the county remains very high, suggesting that cases are being significantly undercounted. Getting vaccinated is an important way to protect oneself, family and friends and the community at large.

To encourage more people to get vaccinated, St. Patrick Hospital set up an online COVID 19 resource desk as part of the Providence Health System network, with the latest COVID-19 stats, vaccine events, vaccine science and more. And since the recent authorization of the COVID-19 vaccines for young kids, the hospital is working across its network to educate people about the importance of administering vaccines to children — warning against the dangers of the misinformation out there.

In a Providence “Health Break” video, Shaina Rogers, D.O., a pediatrician with the Providence Medical Group Pediatrics in Missoula, said, “I feel like it’s been a really rough year, especially for our children, and I think we all want to move forward and put this chapter behind us. And the best way to do that is for us to vaccinate against COVID-19.”