Surge plan nearing for Bozeman Health
Big Sky Medical Center impacted by full regional hospital
On the afternoon of Sept. 15, Bozeman Health representatives called a press conference to
alert the public that Deaconess Hospital, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic
started, was preparing to enter a surge stage with all of its beds at or near 100% capacity.
According to Kallie Kujawa, the COVID-19 Incident Commander for Bozeman Health, “We know
that hospitals right now across the state are full as well as across the country. We have been
coordinating with other hospitals to see if other patients can be transferred. The majority of
other hospitals are on divert.”
Currently, Deaconess Hospital’s critical care unit is 100% full. Six of those twenty people are
COVID-19 cases. Their medical unit, which is for people requiring fewer intensive resources, is
95% full. The hospital’s surgical unit is also at 114% capacity.
With the current limitations on providing care and beds, the hospital is preparing for crisis
standards of care and the implementation of a surge capacity plan. This can look like increasing
patient to staff ratios, rationing equipment and resources, putting patients in areas they
wouldn’t normally, and turning people or elective procedures away.
According to Deaconess Hospital, 15 in 20 of the COVID-19 patients who have needed critical
care have been unvaccinated. Despite the introduction of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines
earlier this year, Gallatin County is experiencing a high rate of community transmission and the
majority of those cases are among those are unvaccinated, according to the Gallatin City-
County Health Department.
Kallie Kujawa, Bozeman Health’s ICS Commander, relayed some of the feelings about the
situation during the press conference: “It’s scary, challenging, and emotional. It’s hard seeing
the staff having to make such difficult decisions and make crisis standards of care. No amount
of time can prepare you for what we are about to experience or planning to experience.”
The hospital and local health department are urging folks who are medically able to get
vaccinated. Additionally, they are strongly recommending for everyone—regardless of their
vaccination status—to wear face masks indoors, contact physicians for assistance on mild cases
to alleviate stress on the hospital, stay home if you feel sick, utilize local testing options, and
support our tireless healthcare workers.
“What we are trying to do is share with everyone the current situation. I don’t know if everyone
is aware of the capacity, the crisis staff, the fact that we are preparing for a surge unit, the
piece of many hospitals being on divert, and being unable to accept patients from other
hospitals. I’ll let everyone determine their level of feelings around that. I’m here to give people
all of this information so it can perhaps shape their behavior and thought process about how
they want to be a part of preventing the spread of COVID-19 around Gallatin County,” told
With over 400 job openings currently listed on the Bozeman Health website, Deaconess
Hospital is actively looking for licensed medical professionals to support the local health care
system and help fill the void. Staffing shortages have been a constant issue for businesses
across the county and the medical field is no exception. Deaconess Hospital is currently relying
on 30 to 40 emergency staffers with ongoing conversations about bringing in the National
Guard for support like nearby Billings.
HOW DOES THIS IMPACT BIG SKY?
Big Sky Medical Center, which is a part of the Bozeman Health system, is a critical access
hospital that serves the Big Sky community. They currently have eight beds but are not
designed to take care of severely ill patients. If someone needed intensive care, whether that’s
related to COVID-19 or another serious medical condition, BSMC would transfer them to a
regional hospital like Deaconess. At the moment, however, they cannot.
Taylor Rose, the Director of Operations and Clinical Services at Big Sky Medical Center, explains,
“We knew this was coming. Given the trending cases of COVID in Gallatin County, Deaconess
Hospital reaching or exceeding capacity was an expected outcome. We have been planning for
this situation since the pandemic started.”
Full regional hospitals and the inability to transfer patients has a domino effect for small
communities like Big Sky or Ennis with less resources and fewer staff. “As can be expected there
is fatigue and frustration that it has come to this point... Our biggest concern is having a facility
that is able to take our patients that are too sick for us to keep here in Big Sky. Having other
hospitals full means that our staff is required to spend more time with those who are very sick,”
Despite the challenging news and preparations to enter a surge capacity plan across Bozeman
Health, Big Sky Medical Center remains available for testing seven days a week, hosts vaccine
administration clinics every Wednesday, and offers the recommended COVID-19 treatments for
patients. They are also equipped with four ventilators.
Prompted with a takeaway message to the public, Kallie Kujawa of Bozeman Health urged folks
as members of the community to exhaust all ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and
understand that severe illness is potentially preventable. Please wear a mask indoors regardless
of vaccination status, get tested and stay home if you feel sick, and obtain a vaccine if medically
able to do so, per Gallatin City-County Health Department.