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VA Medical Center near Helena to open beds to non-veterans

| September 28, 2021 7:00 AM

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana hospitals that reach capacity due to a surge in COVID-19 cases may be able to transfer patients to the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center west of Helena, while additional National Guard soldiers are being activated to help at hospitals, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Friday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency granted the state's request for access to use up to two acute care beds and four medical beds for non-veterans at the VA Medical Center, as hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continue to increase.

The beds at Fort Harrison can be used to care for patients with or without COVID-19. The VA will accept patients if it has the capacity and ability to provide required care, Gianforte's office said.

The state's hospitals reported they were caring for 416 COVID-19 patients on Friday, up from 402 on Thursday. Montana averaged 427 daily hospitalizations in November 2020, before vaccines were available.

While making six more beds available is important, Gianforte said, "the best solution to this crisis remains Montanans talking with their doctor or pharmacist and getting vaccinated against COVID-19."

He said he would not issue vaccine mandates, but "but these vaccines are safe, they work, and they can save your life."

Also Friday, Gianforte said he had approved requests for National Guard soldiers to help at hospitals in Kalispell, Whitefish, Livingston and Plains. Logan Health in Kalispell requested help from 25 Guard members. The governor has recently approved requests for 144 Guard members to help at hospitals.

The governor's office expects additional requests for Guard help.

Last week, the Department of Public Health and Human Services issued an emergency rule making it easier for hospitals to transfer certain patients to other health care facilities to free up hospital beds.

Montana reported 1,038 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and the state has reported 1,945 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, including 138 in September.