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What happens if hospitals reach full capacity?

Posted at 7:42 PM, Nov 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-30 21:42:51-05

TWIN FALLS — For weeks hospitals have been struggling with staffing, transferring patients out of state, and having available rooms for patients. With the recent holiday celebrations, health officials are worried about an influx of patients who may have gotten sick from COVID or even other respiratory issues like the flu from traveling or having large gatherings. They anticipate hospitals may reach full capacity very soon.

Assistant Medical Director of St. Luke's Urgent Care, Dr. Martha Taylor, said, "If these social distancing ques, and your masking and your travel restrictions aren't self-imposed in the next few weeks. I could see that timeline being significantly sped up to the point where holidays, beginning of the year, we will be at maximum capacity."

Former CEO of St. Luke's, Dr. David Pate, added, "Some people may think I'm fear-mongering. That's not who I am. I oftentimes have refrained during the course of this pandemic from sharing all of my thoughts and concerns because I don't want to overreact or scare people unnecessarily. I would not be telling your viewers this unless I actually thought this was very potentially likely, or more likely than not. Right now, I think it's more likely than not. I pray I'm going to be wrong, but I fear that I'm right."

Hospitals have been utilizing different strategies to try and create more space. St. Luke's has suspended general surgeries and has been sending patients to other hospitals. Some branches of St. Luke's had closed individual wards to try and create more room, like when Magic Valley stopped admitting children to have more beds available.

Even with the changes made, hospitals are still preparing for the worst. Some hospitals in neighboring states have stopped admitting Idaho patients, and others are almost at capacity themselves. With all of these factors, if hospitals hit full capacity, they will need to set up field hospitals or use remote locations.

"Can we take over a hotel and convert it into a hospital? Can we convert ambulatory surgery centers? Can we convert them into mini ICU's? We would look at some of those kinds of things," said Pate.

It is important to note that if hospitals reach full capacity, it is not just for COVID patients, but for everyone. Dr. Taylor said in a recent interview with Idaho News Six, "As callous as it sounds, we could be forced into a corner of having to rank order the severity of patients that could potentially all be admitted. But if you have three beds for ten patients, how do you choose? And that is a decision no physician wants to make."

There is a plan for the field hospitals where most likely COVID patients would be placed in the remote facilities. "Since it will be the furthest away from all the ansler services, is put all the COVID patients there, because they would all have very similar needs, similar physicians and nurses that would need to be involved with their care," said Pate.

Somebody who is having more complicated procedures or problems will be put in the hospital's main facility.

Still, a problem that may come with field hospitals that traditional hospitals are facing is staffing. If there are not enough, healthcare professionals would be reaching out to retired physicians or doctors. They would also reach out to services that provide nurses, yet they might be short-staffed since multiple states are having this problem. They would also reach out to medical students.

"Could we take physicians that are still in training in their residency? Can we mobilize them? Can we mobilize nursing students, PA students, etcetera? We'll certainly look at all of those options," said Pate."

Field hospitals or other remote facilities can be utilized for as long as hospitals need them. Yet then some may wonder what would that do to resources? Dr. Pate did say that Idaho hospitals seem to be doing well in that regard currently but that over time, certain items may be affected.
"There may be shortages in testing equipment. Shortages in reagents to run tests. Shortages in testing kits to test people. Shortages in PPE," said Pate.

Health officials are again encouraging the public to wear masks, social distance, and limit gatherings over the next few weeks. They are also suggesting for people who traveled or visited other people's homes for Thanksgiving.