Hospitals see spike in heat-related illnesses

Regions Hospital in St. Paul is seeing a spike in heat-related illnesses during this week’s heat wave.

“It’s been a busy week,” said Dr. Jessie Nelson, an emergency physician at Regions. “We’re seeing plenty of heat-related issues.”

Thursday marked the hottest day of summer so far, with heat warnings in effect due to heat index values topping 100 degrees.

HealthPartners told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS their doctors treated eight patients this week for heat-related issues at their two largest hospitals, Regions and Methodist in St. Louis Park — including four who suffered dehydration and two who had fainted.

“If it gets really hot, we have problems. If it’s really humid, we have problems. If it’s really hot and really humid, we’re clearly at risk of high body temperature,” Nelson said. “And if it lasts too long, basically our organs cook. Without treatment, people do die from this.”

In the emergency department, Nelson said health teams work to cool patients down as quickly as possible.

“We literally bring big box fans in. We bring buckets of ice. We remove your clothes, cover you in a wet sheet and run fans over you, trying to get evaporation happening and trying to rapidly cool your body down,” Nelson said.

She said during hot weeks like this one they may also cool down their IV fluids, which are normally stored and used at room temperature, in an effort to bring body temperature down quickly.

“We can actually put some bags in the fridge if we know somebody’s coming or even run the tubing from the IV bag in some ice to cool it down,” Nelson said.

Nelson said some of this week’s heat-related cases were serious but most patients bounce back within the hour.

She noted that summer is an already busy time for emergency departments because of accidents involving car travel and recreational activities.

The emergency department at Regions had its third-busiest day ever on Monday, with 314 patients seeking emergency care for a variety of issues.

An Allina Health spokesperson told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS this year is now breaking records at United Hospital in St. Paul, with the highest patient volumes year to date.

“It makes for very busy shifts in the ER,” said Dr. Kevin Smith, an emergency physician at United Hospital.

Smith says heat waves, like the one we are seeing this week, bring the possibility of even more patients seeking emergency care, noting the heat can also lead to secondary emergencies.

“If you’re overheating in direct sun, especially in a work environment, you can easily then have an injury from falling off of something or if you’re operating equipment,” Smith said.

At Regions, the emergency department added extra staff this week to deal with high patient volumes.

Doctors expect heat-related concerns to continue, despite the cool-down in temperatures expected later this week.

“I don’t think we’re out of the woods. This is a theme we see every summer,” Nelson said.

Due to the high heat, not only here at home but across the country, President Joe Biden and his administration called on the Department of Labor to issue the first-ever ‘heat hazard alert.’

The White House says a key part of the alert is to reaffirm that workers have heat-related protections under federal law. Another part includes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), stepping up its patrol and enforcement.

High heat health impacts

High heat health impacts