SBC hospital beds nearly full, another COVID-related death added to the count

Thursday, September 30, 2021
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Another Stillwater County resident has died of COVID-related causes, bringing the total to 20.

The resident was a female in her 70s.

There are currently 93 active cases in the county and 836 recovered cases, according to the Governor’s Coronavirus Dashboard and Stillwater Billings Clinic/Public Health.

Fourteen of Stillwater Billings Clinic hospital beds were occupied as of Wednesday, leaving just two beds available.

The emergency department has been flooded with COVID and non-COVID patients. Last, approximately 14 patients sought help for some kind of medical issue, ranging from injuries to allergic reactions to accidents, according to calls for service listed in the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office dispatch records.

COVID immunization clinics are still being conducted every Friday at the clinic, but Saturday clinic services have been discontinued at this time.

Stillwater Billings Clinic continues to make the same recommendations it has been making for some time — stay home when sick, wash your hands frequently, wear a mask when in crowded areas and get vaccinated.


The Delta variant continues a strong surge throughout the state. There have been 89 COVID-related deaths in Montana during the last week. There have been 173 deaths statewide since Sept. 8. There are currently 418 active hospitalizations.

On Monday, the daily new case count for September was averaging 1,111.5. As of Wednesday, that average had increased to 1,127 new cases per day.


Like almost everywhere else in the country, increased COVID and non-COVID patient loads have put more sick bodies in hospital beds and healthcare officials working harder to provide care for the entire community. A national staffing shortage, particularly with nurses, is compounding the problem.

Staffing numbers at the Stillwater Billings Clinic have been fairly stable during the last 18 months. Since the Delta variant surge began to make itself felt in the last handful of weeks, vacancies have been filled by managers working shifts in an all-hands-on-deck effort.

Last week, additional staffing allowed the hospital to open its new 6-bed unit that was added with CARES Act money. With more beds come more patient care and a simple plea from local healthcare providers for the community to remember they are doing the absolute best they can under unprecedented circumstances.

“Please, just give us a little grace,” Stillwater Billings Clinic Director of Clinic and Ancillary Services Natasha Sailer said recently.

The hospital is in search of multiple positions including an occupational therapist, clinic and hospital RNs, home health/public health RN, medical technologist, medical assistant, nutrition services and EVS technician.


With the staffing shortages have also come changes in COVID tracing and contacting. Patients are now notified of a positive test by their doctor or whoever did the test.

The test result is then sent to the state and the state then in turn notifies Public Health through an electronic medical record. From the time the lab gets the test to when Public Health is notified can be as long as four to seven days.

The letter from Public Health explains quarantine, how to manage symptoms at home, when to seek care and how to notify those close to them of their positive case status.


In the month of September, active cases in Stillwater County have been comprised of approximately 56 females and 53 males, according to state statistics as presented every Monday through Friday in an email from the Governor’s Coronavirus Task Force.

For females, the age groups of 50 to 59 and 60 to 69 saw double-digit numbers, with 10 and 11 respectively. The next highest group was the 10 to 19 age group with eight cases.

On the male side, the age groups of 30 to 39 and 50 to 59 each had 11 cases, with the age group of 70 to 79 registering eight cases.

The complete case breakdown is as follows:


0-1: 1

10-19: 8

20-29: 6

30-39: 1

40-49: 6

50-59: 10

60-69: 11

70-79: 6

80-89: 5

90-99: 2


0-1: 0

10-19: 6

20-29: 6

30-39: 11

40-49: 6

50-59: 11

60-69: 2

70-79: 8

80-89: 3

90-99: 0


Governor Greg Gianforte has granted requests for National Guard help at the following hospitals:

•Billings Clinic submitted a second formal request for 10 additional Guardsmen, which was granted on Sept. 24.

•St. Vincent Healthcare request for 10 Guardsmen was granted on Sept. 22.

•St. Peter’s Health in Helena requests for 10 Guardsmen was granted on Sept. 24.

•Missoula County received 24 Guardsmen on Sept. 24.

Hospitals who have formally requested and been approved for Guardsmen are as follows:

•St. James Healthcare in Butte will receive six Guardsmen.

•Bozeman Health will receive 10 Guardsmen.

•Benefits Health System in Great Falls will receive 20 Guardsmen.

•Livingston HealthCare will receive six Guardsmen.

•Logan Health in Kalispell will receive 25 Guardsmen.

•Logan Health Whitefish will receive 2 Guardsmen.

•Clark Fork Valley Hospital in Plains will receive four Guardsmen.

•Sidney Health Center will receive four Guardsmen.

Gianforte also last week entered into an agreement with FEMA that opens up six beds at the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center to any eligible facility in the state who is in need. These beds are available to both COVID and nonCOVID patients and will be available if the VA “has the capacity and capability to provide required care,” according to a press release.

Additionally, DPHHS issued an emergency rule making last week that makes it easier for hospitals to transfer certain patients to other health care facilities, freeing up needed hospital beds.