Inside a Twin Cities emergency room: long waits, overwhelmed staff

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Allina Health’s no visitor policy took effect on Tuesday, but 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS was one of the media last crews allowed inside on Monday afternoon to tour the emergency room at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, which is part of Allina Health.

"It feels like a marathon, but there is really no finish line right now," said Dr. Michael Schwemm, medical director of emergency services at Mercy Hospital.

On average, about 25% of the patients in Mercy’s ER are there due to COVID-19. On Monday afternoon overall traffic was slow but everywhere there are signs from when it’s not: the beds and the oxygen masks stationed in the hallways and the makeshift exam partitions constructed from PVC pipes and shower curtains.

One patient, Nicholas Saggerson from Oak Grove, came into the ER with chest pains and was waiting to be admitted to a cardio unit.

"I’ve been here two days waiting. I’m just trying to get up to a room, but they are so full it’s hard to get in. I’m stressed out of my mind. I’ve got kids at home. It’s scary," he said.

"You don’t want to sit there and watch people languish in your lobby. You want to be able to do something for them. It’s a very helpless feeling to see the pain and the hurt in these people and not be able to render this care," said Ben Thomas, patient care manager for Mercy’s ER.

Adding to the complications are medical staff who are getting sick themselves. A spokesperson for Allina Health said as of Monday, 865 employees across the system have been removed from work due to COVID-19.