Fact Check: Is Montana’s Hospital Capacity Really Being Overwhelmed By COVID-19?


Various local health department officials have taken the cue of Governor Steve Bullock and alleged that new social restrictions might need to be implemented because Montana’s hospital capacity is being overwhelmed by COVID-19. Only hours ago, Bullock posted an article from the Billings Gazette quoting a statement made by 230 of Montana’s health care providers alleging that our hospitals and communities are being “overwhelmed” by coronavirus. Bullock’s Facebook page is full of similar predictions that Montana’s healthcare infrastructure cannot survive the current pandemic if community members don’t engage in mask-wearing and social distancing.

Numerous officials have spoken along this line of an imminent danger to Montana’s hospitals because too many people are currently being infected by COVID-19. As the story is told, our hospitals are over-run and there aren’t enough hospital beds or ventilators in the state and we again need to “flatten the curve” (which we’ve been doing for six months).

In a recent article at NBC Montana, entitled COVID-19 increases strain resources at Montana hospitals, some curious facts are given that seem to contradict the senational headline. According to the article, St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula had six COVID-19 patients in ICU but 24 ICU beds. One ventilator was used there for a COVID-19 patient out of 42 available. While there are 17 other patients at St. Patrick’s Hospital in the ICU for non-COVID issues, the other medical facility – Community Medical Center – had exactly zero patients in their ICU from COVID-19 with 13 beds available. There, no ventilator was being used for a COVID-19 case, and only 3 ventilators were being used in total out of 16 available.

Additionally, Bozeman Health Deaconness showed 2 COVID-19 patients in ICU with 20 beds available and again, no ventilators being used for COVID-19 with 20 available.

So, where is the health strain coming from? While COVID-19 seems to add an additional case-load of about 15% to hosptializations in at least four Montana counties, it is commensurate with the seasonal flu.

Here are the figures for Montana’s hospital capacity: Of 17 non-federal acute care facilities in Montana, there are among them 2,202 staffed beds.

This does not account for most county hospital facilities which have anywhere between a half-dozen and twenty Intensive Care Unit beds per hospital. In total – counting these hospitals, there are 3,381 hospital beds in Montana. Of these, 165 beds are ICU beds. There are a total of (roughly) 500 ventilators in the state, with less than a dozen being used on COVID-19 patients.

COVID-19 has claimed 192 deaths in Montana since the ‘pandemic’ began, with numbers of infections raising in a rate that is commensurate with COVID-19 testing. In short, the rise in positive cases has largely been due to the rise in available testing and not from desperately sick people going into the hospital for treatment (increased by contact-tracing), driving down the death rate as exponentially as the positive testing rate has gone up.

There are – as of yesterday – 4,983 active cases of COVID-19. The nationwide hospitalization rate for COVID-19 is .17%, or 178 of 100,000. In Montana, this means that it would be next to impossible to overwhelm our health infrastructure with 165 ICU beds available.

Some would argue that the real danger is that there are those occupying ICU beds who do not have COVID-19, and those potential COVID-19 cases could be enough tip the scales of a precarious balance, overhwhelming our infrastructure. But in reality, the statistics do not bear that out as likely. This is because of one little fact that catastrophizers are hesitant to acknowledge; the rise in COVID-19 positive cases has not increased the over-all number of those who are sick and/or die from various ailments. In the United States, the total death tally is down in 2020 by roughly 4%. One would assume Montana would show a similar decrease or at the very least a similar figure as 2019 considering less than 200 have died from COVID-19 statewide (roughly 1/7th of those killed by abortion).

Others might argue that the danger isn’t that there aren’t enough beds in Montana, but that they aren’t where they need to be. Some rural counties don’t have any ICU beds, for example. But as the most recent stats show (below) those are not the counties with severe COVID-19 outbreaks. Furthermore, in rural counties – like in distant Wibaux, for example – almost everyone is prepared to leave the county for any kind of medical care anyway and neighboring hospitals are already prepared to service those areas with in-place infrastructure.


With more than 3,381 hospital beds including 165 ICU beds and nearly 500 unused ventilators, it would be next to impossible for Montana’s healthcare infrastructure to be overwhelmed by 4,983 active cases when the hosptialization rate is only .17%.


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