Inside a Montana hospital dealing with a surge of new COVID patients

Posted at 10:23 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-30 00:32:55-04

Some medical providers in Montana are suing the state over a law that bans companies from requiring vaccinations for employees. The lawsuit comes as the state deals with a record number of COVID patients in the ICU.

“We're just... we're bursting at the seams right now,” said Jamiee Belsky, an emergency physician at Billings Clinic who can barely keep up with the crush of new COVID patients.

The ICU at Billings Clinic is running at 150% and the hospital has built makeshift rooms along hallways and called in the Montana National Guard for support.

Fifty-nine old Frank Miller was hospitalized with COVID and has been in the hospital for more than 17 days. The unvaccinated engineer spent more than a week on a ventilator.

Miller said he was “scared out of my mind,” adding that was “because you don't know. You don't know what's happening. Afterward, I thought I'd come right out of it and I would be okay. And all of a sudden I couldn't move my hands. I couldn't feed myself.”

DPHHS released a report on Monday highlighting Montana data from February 2021 to September 2021, and found that 89.5% of the cases, 88.6% of hospitalizations, and 83.5% of the deaths were among people who were not fully vaccinated, including those not yet eligible for vaccination. Click here for more information and the full report.

Scenes like this are playing out across Montana with younger and sicker patients admitted daily. The state has averaged about 109 COVID patients hospitalized in the ICU per day in the past week, breaking the record seen during the fall of 2020.

“I think all of us have reached breaking points at different times. You have good days, you have bad days. I have days I have to call my college buddies and say, ‘hey man, it's been a bad day. We lost a tough patient last night’,” Dr. Belsky said getting emotional.“And they're great about coming up and saying, ‘Hey, what can we do?"

“I'm petrified for the future. If the vaccination rate doesn't increase, this is going to get worse,” Dr. Belsky added.

Eight people have died in the past week at Billings Clinic due to COVID.

Miller says he regrets not getting the vaccine and plans to do so now. But he still has a long road ahead and will have to go to a rehab center once he’s discharged, to learn how to feed himself and walk again before eventually returning home.

Montana is not the only state deploying National Guard troops to help hospitals - other states include Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Kentucky, and Tennessee.