Joining Governor Steve Bullock during Wednesday’s press conference was Dr. Shelly Harkins, Chief Medical Officer at Helena’s St. Peter’s Medical Center.

Dr. Harkins warned that if case numbers don’t start slowing down, than healthcare facilities could be overwhelmed with COVID 19 and other patients.

“We anticipate that based on the increased number of cases, we will see an increasing number of hospitalizations in the coming weeks to months,” said Dr. Harkins. “At this pace, we may reach our maximum capacity here at St. Peter's Health Center. It's important to remember that typically its a few weeks following an increase in reported cases that we would see hospitalizations.”

Dr. Harkins said it’s not just COVID that causes healthcare facilities to be overtaxed.

“The impact of COVID on our health system has much less to do with hospitalizations here at St. Peter's health at this point,” she said. “It has more to do with how widespread disease like we are now beginning to see here causes staffing constraints that limit our ability to care for patients. When our staff is out on mandated quarantines after being deemed contacts or because they are ill from COVID, our capacity is strained.”

Dr. Harkins said having available technology is not the problem, it’s the lack of trained medical personnel that will be the main challenge.

“We've got a lot of equipment, technology, medication and know how, but we are nothing without our people,” she said. “Our trained and dedicated medical professionals are the ones who can utilize all of that equipment and technology and medication to save lives. When resources are strained at the local health system, all the patients, even those with non COVID medical conditions, like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, many others, they become at risk of being left without adequate services to stay well.”

Like Governor Bullock, Dr. Harkins asked listeners to wear cloth face coverings, practice social distancing, wash hands often and keep commonly used surfaces clean and disinfected to slow the growth of COVID 19.

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