‘Bursting at the seams’

Screenshot from Brookings City Council meeting video: Jason Merkley, president and CEO of Brookings Health System, told the Brookings City Council Tuesday that the hospital is “bursting at the seams” with patients, many of whom have COVID-19 and are unvaccinated. He pleaded with the community to take precautions for the sake of his workforce, which is “battered, fatigued and frustrated.”

Merkley addresses council on surge in COVID patients, most unvaccinated

BROOKINGS – Jason Merkley, president and CEO of Brookings Health System, told the Brookings City Council Tuesday that the hospital is seeing more patients who are very sick with COVID-19 and approximately 90% are unvaccinated. 

Merkley delivered some hard facts about what his staff is up against, pleaded with the public to take precautions so they don’t overwhelm his staff any more than they are, and faced challenges from members of the audience over his statements.

‘Unprecedented challenges’

Brookings Health System released information warning the community to brace itself as COVID-19 surges again, along with the seasonal flu, which was reported in The Brookings Register on Monday. Merkley called the article “a snapshot” of “the unprecedented challenges we are facing as a community and as a health system.”

He highlighted a couple main points, starting with COVID.

The South Dakota Department of Health has stated that approximately 90-plus percent of the identified COVID cases in South Dakota are of the omicron variant, he noted.

“COVID positivity and transmission rates are out of control within our state and community,” Merkley said.

“I just left the hospital, where we had an emergency department full of struggling COVID patients; four of which are being admitted as in-patients as I speak,” Merkley said.

“Up to this point, over the fall and winter months, we have averaged treating approximately three to seven COVID in-patients per day within the hospital; many, many, many more on a daily basis for out-patient treatment and care,” Merkley said.

“I have a strong suspicion those numbers are going to dramatically increase in the coming days and weeks based upon the trends we are seeing over this past week,” Merkley said.

“To that end, I cannot stress enough that we should take any and all precautions that we can as individuals in this fight to control the spread of this virus,” Merkley said.

He also addressed hospital capacity and workforce.

“The hospital has been – and continues to be – bursting at the seams with patients, most of which are very sick,” Merkley said, adding sometimes they have no ability to transfer sick patients to another facility for specialized care.

“We quite honestly will not be able to sustain this pace, and have no reserves left on the bench to replace those in action,” Merkley said of his staff, who are working extra hours.

“Our search plans are in place, our alternative staffing plans are in place, and our ability to stretch much further is limited,” Merkley said.

“Unfortunately, every other facility is facing the same set of challenges as us, with little to no capacity, staffing shortages, and a workforce that is battered, fatigued and frustrated,” Merkley said.

“We need our community to get healthy and to stay healthy. We will be there for those who need us, but we also need your cooperation and assistance,” Merkley said.

90% unvaccinated

Councilor Patty Bacon asked if most of the COVID patients were unvaccinated.

Merkley said BHS follows the same trends as the rest of the country.

“Ninety-plus percent are unvaccinated that are in the hospital; that’s very similar to what we’re seeing. We’re beginning to see more of those folks that are vaccinated that are probably older in age and maybe, you know, compromised with other co-morbidities,” Merkley said.


Public comments

Bradley Walker asked Merkley what treatments BHS is providing for COVID outpatients.

For the most part, they are providing monoclonal antibody infusions therapy, Merkley said.

Walker said his family members said they were sent home and told “to do nothing but isolate.” Walker asked if BHS recommended patients take “proven supplements that are known to help fight the disease.”

Merkley said that would be up the health provider treating the individual patient.

Jeanette Gibbons questioned the definition of vaccinated versus unvaccinated.

“I think it’s very misleading for the public to be told, ‘we have this many vaccinated, this many unvaccinated in the hospital’ without knowing the exact breakdown,” Gibbons said.

She said there was a letter “written by a group of physicians, experts in the field, the organization is called The World Council for Health,” which has published a “cease and desist letter regarding the vaccinations.” She asked Merkley if he had received the letter.

“I received the letter and threw it in the trash about as quick as I could read it,” Merkley replied.

“I would suggest that you read it or look it up online,” Gibbons said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]


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