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ICU bed space reaching capacity in cities across the country

Posted at 3:15 PM, Dec 16, 2020

Some first responders worry if current COVID-19 hospitalization numbers do not start falling, the general population looking for care might get turned away.

Bed space in intensive care units is not available in several major metropolitan areas around the country, as more COVID-19 patients come in.

Last week, 224 ICU beds in the Albuquerque, New Mexico were reported as occupied despite the availability of only 192 within hospitals that reported data to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

According to data from HHS, 1 in 3 Americans is living in an area where hospitals have less than 15 percent of available intensive care beds, and 1 in 10 Americans are in an area with less than 5 percent capacity.

“It’s scary,” said Maria Pais, an RN Supervisor at University of New Mexico Health. “We’re scared.”

Since March, Pais has been helping the hospital convert areas into ICU chambers so it can handle the influx of patients.

“Social distance so we can get through this and so we can have the beds we need in this hospital to care for you and your family,” she said.

“It takes a toll on everybody, because daily, as we come into work, we never know what we’re going to be doing,” added Patrick Baker, director of the hospital’s Rapid Response Team.

“I don’t envy the providers who have to sit there and make the plans for if and when we have to determine who gets care and who doesn’t,” he said.

Baker says surgery units have been converted into ICUs as UNMH has reached a point where emergency rooms are now seeing effects as well.

“It’s not just affecting COVID patients,” said Baker. “COVID patients coming in is a big deal, but how would you feel if you had to go to the emergency room because you got in a car accident and you weren’t able to be seen?”

And the issue is not just affecting people coming into these hospitals but the men and women tasked with keeping them running.

“Staff to take care of the patients in the beds is more likely the limiting resource that we have,” said Barclay Berdan, CEO of Texas Health Resources, which oversees the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

According to the newest numbers from the Department of Health and Human Services, 93 percent of ICU beds are occupied in the Dallas region, straining the limited number of nurses, doctors, and pharmacists who tend to them.

Berdan says it means the need for more trained staff as well as the possibility of transferring patients to hospitals that might have more room, but might be out of the patient’s network.

“Wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, stay out of crowds,” he said.

It has led these first responders to repeat what we have heard so many times before in an effort to avoid a situation that is worse than the one we are currently in.

“There’s a real possibility that you show up somewhere to get care if you get in that car accident, and they say, 'Sorry, we can’t help you,'” said Baker.