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Gianforte’s Emergency Rule Could Free Beds In Montana’s Large Hospitals

Hospital bed.
Hospital bed.

Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Friday evening that his administration issued a new emergency rule that he says will help transfer patients out of overburdened large hospitals faster, freeing up more beds.

When a large hospital has a patient that can be discharged but still needs some level of medical care, state regulations require them to call all local nursing homes or other facilities within 25 miles with swing beds before calling smaller critical-access hospitals. Swing beds bridge the gap between the high level of care large hospitals provide and sending a patient home.

Montana Hospital Association CEO Rich Rasmussen says, “What we’re seeing here is that many of our nursing homes are reluctant to take patients.”

Rasmussen and leaders of large hospitals for weeks have told MTPR that swing-bed facilities can’t take patients for a range of reasons, from lack of bed availability to an active COVID outbreak, and that it can take days to place a patient in a swing facility.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services’ new emergency rule allows large hospitals to bypass calling swing-bed facilities and to quickly identify available beds in smaller hospitals by utilizing a statewide database showing bed availability.

Rasmussen says this will free up some beds in large hospitals, which are caring for Montana’s sickest COVID-19 patients and others requiring a high level of care.

“I don’t sense that it will have an impact on strain of staffing, but it will allow us to better load-balance and it will accelerate the process for doing that,” he says.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Montana have hovered around 350 over the past week, pushing many large hospitals to consider or begin rationing care.

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Aaron is Montana Public Radio's Flathead reporter.