Health care workers and emergency responders are finding their own way to celebrate Thanksgiving

SAVAGE, Minnesota – Renee Rosenberg is on the road this Thanksgiving, but not on the road to a family reunion. She’s one of dozens of other emergency responders on the clock this holiday in case you need help.

It’s not perfect, but they make the most of it. Every EMS team with Allina Health has Thanksgiving food, and some brought their own apple pie and ice cream for a treat, she said.

“We’re stuck with each other, so we make the most of it,” joked Rosenberg, who is the operations manager for Allina Health EMS in the south metro. “We are very grateful and honored to serve our communities the way we do.”

Even as they work, the first responders on her team still find moments of joy—thanks in large part to Evie, their therapy dog. The break for the pups is desperately needed at a time when Rosenberg says they are busier than ever due to a surge in respiratory illnesses.

Minnesota is facing a rise in RSV among children, with 180 hospitalized last week. The state health department also said the number of new flu cases in Minnesota this season is outpacing recent years.

“Especially with the stress of everything going on with the illnesses, we’re all tired,” she said. “What we want our community to do is take care of themselves – wash their hands.” Give us some mercy, give the hospital staff some mercy because we are doing the best we can with the resources we have. COVID has taken a lot away from people away from healthcare.”

It is also less staffed than pre-pandemic levels, meaning more responsibilities for those still working in the profession. Their calls have increased since the height of COVID, she said.

At Abbott Northwestern, healthcare professionals work for you, too. They have been through a lot in the last few years. But Dr. Jon Furstenberg, an intensive care physician who works in the intensive care unit, said they are in good spirits because of the camaraderie they share.

“There’s usually a collegiality when everyone has to work on holidays. Nurses always have a holiday. That’s one of the first things we ask: Which ICU is going to be the lucky one or the holiday?” he said.

Although the waves of COVID have subsided, the hospital is still struggling — not because there aren’t enough beds, but because there aren’t enough people, especially nurses, who Furstenberg said have felt the brunt of the stress the pandemic has placed on the health care system.

His hospital is not overwhelmed by RSV because they deal mostly with adult patients, but it has taken some teenagers from full pediatric hospitals, he added.

“I think the scary thing is that we’re still maxing out the number of patients we can take because of staffing,” Furstenberg said. “If there was a big spike — which maybe with COVID it will happen, but especially now I’m worried about the potential of this flu and RSV to spike — I don’t know if we’re going to have a lot of capacity to deal with that.”

Medical experts suggest these tips to relieve the burden on hospital emergency departments:

  • Stay home if you or your family are sick.

  • Wash your hands often.

  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or shirt sleeve, not your hands.

  • Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices.

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.

  • Mask when appropriate.

  • Stay up-to-date on flu shots and COVID-19 boosters.

  • Consider an urgent care, primary care provider, or telehealth options for non-urgent care.

  • Have a primary care provider for your entire family and stay connected and up-to-date on preventive care so your primary care team can partner with you on all health-related issues.

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