The Oklahoma Hospital Association has outlined several key points for the public to understand about hospital ICU bed capacity and patient care during COVID-19, as well as what the public can do to lessen the strain on the hospital system.
Hospital ICU capacity is very fluid and can change hour to hour. When data is provided about hospital ICU capacity in the metro areas, it is important to note that data is just a point in time. Hospital capacity changes throughout the day as patients are admitted, discharged or moved to a different level of care. This is typical not just during a pandemic. Hospitals carefully monitor capacity daily and trend over time for staffing purposes.
Hospital ICU capacity is based on the number of staffed beds available. In other words, it doesn’t reflect the number of empty or occupied beds alone, rather the number of beds that the hospital has health care clinicians available to staff at a point in time. To effectively manage hospital expenses, hospitals do not routinely staff empty beds on an ongoing basis. Capacity is tight at times year around even without a pandemic. As ICU needs arise, hospitals work to provide staff for more beds.
Oklahoma has been in the midst of a shortage of nurses and heath care professionals for some time. This shortage is exacerbated during a pandemic, especially as private agencies work to redeploy nurses to other hot spots around the country at a high rate of pay. In addition, during a pandemic, hospitals will have a number of their own personnel quarantined and unable to care for patients at any given time due to exposure.
The statewide hospital surge plan developed by the Oklahoma Hospital Association, along with state agency partners, has worked as designed but will be refined as we learn from this pandemic. The underlying premise of the surge plan is based on regional capacity with the overall goal of keeping patients close to home whenever possible. However, patients and families should be aware that when capacity is strained in a region, it may be necessary to transfer patients outside of the region. In this way, hospitals can work together to ensure that all patients receive the care they need. This strain on capacity could result in patients experiencing longer wait times and delays in non-emergent care.
Regardless of hospital capacity and the current pandemic, it is important that Oklahomans do not delay needed health care. Hospitals across the state are safe and available to treat patients. Even when Oklahomans hear about low hospital capacity in their community, they should never hesitate to seek care when needed. As always, hospitals continue ready to serve patients in need 24/7.
Currently, hospital bed capacity is tight in a number of regions. There are a number of things the public can do now to lessen this strain and preserve vital health care resources, as well as save lives:
Always wear a mask in public.
Avoid large gatherings and social distance at all times.
Get a flu shot. This is more important this year than ever before because the COVID-19 and influenza combination is very dangerous and could further strain hospitals.
Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
Oklahoma hospitals are counting on everyone to do their part to prevent Oklahoma’s health care system from being overwhelmed.