‘Critical’ time for NC hospitals, ICU bed capacity a concern

North Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – Nearly 3,000 people across North Carolina are in the hospital because of COVID-19. That means, in many areas, hospital beds are filling up fast.

“It is a critical time for our hospital system,” said Novant Health infectious disease expert Dr. David Priest, “with bed capacity and staffing as our primary concern.”

Since Thanksgiving, hospitals across the state have seen an increase in coronavirus patients, Priest said on Tuesday during a virtual media briefing. That combined with an expected seasonal increase in patients needing medical care for other health conditions has “put quite a strain” on local hospitals and healthcare facilities, he said.

That strain is highlighted in a New York Times article this week showing how full intensive care unit beds are. Using data from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Times mapped ICU occupancy averages at hospitals across the US. Looking at numbers from Dec. 4-10, the Times found North Carolina’s average, at 82 percent, slightly above the national, which is 78 percent.

In the Charlotte area, a map with dark purple dots represents hospitals whose ICU beds are at or near capacity. It includes:

  • Atrium Health Union (100 percent)
  • Atrium Health University City (100 percent)
  • Atrium Health Cleveland (98 percent)
  • Atrium Health Stanly (97 percent)
  • Novant Health Matthews Medical Center (93 percent)

“We’re prepared to activate an array of surge planning,” Priest said. “From staffing contingency, to utilizing additional space on our campuses if we need to.”

Both Novant and Atrium say they have the capacity to care for patients and handle any surges. Novant says the map doesn’t account for additional beds that were emergency approved at the beginning of the pandemic.

Atrium says it is common to see patient volumes fluctuate during the day, month and week.

“Most hospitals across the state have been given permission to increase bed capacity if the need arises,” an Atrium spokesperson told FOX 46. “At Atrium Health, during peak times, we can flex bed space to create additional capacity as needed. Because of this, providing an overall capacity number can be misleading, since it can change from one day to the next.”

While not a real-time snapshot, it is a concerning picture as hospitals brace for yet another holiday surge.

See the NYT map here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/covid-hospitals-near-you.html

Atrium Health Statement

“Teams across Atrium Health have been planning from the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic for a variety of scenarios, including an increase in patients. Like all hospitals across the state and around the country, the number of patients has increased since the Thanksgiving holiday. This is exactly why medical experts have been advocating and stressing the critical need for the community to stay home, wear a facemask and wash their hands frequently.

Hospital Capacity

Most hospitals across the state have been given permission to increase bed capacity if the need arises. At Atrium Health, during peak times, we can flex bed space to create additional capacity as needed. Because of this, providing an overall capacity number can be misleading, since it can change from one day to the next. For example, if we are at X percent capacity one day and we add to the number of available beds in a facility to serve an increase in patients, the overall capacity percentage will decrease. Simply stated, as the denominator changes, so will the capacity percentage.  

Atrium Health Hospital at Home

Atrium Health’s innovative Hospital at Home program has been widely successful to allow low acuity patients to be treated in the comfort of their own home. We’ve treated over 35,000 through this nationally leading program and strongly believe it is one of the reasons we’re able to continue to treat more severely ill patients in our hospitals. With around 100 patients currently being treated at home through this nationally leading program, it’s clear to see the positive impact it is having on available bed space at our facilities that then can be used for patients needing a higher level of care.

Patient Volumes

It is common to see hospital patient volumes fluctuate throughout the day, week or month. Often this is cyclical and more recently, in part, due to COVID cases. Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center emergency department is currently experiencing patient volumes consistent with a typical, high-traffic day.

Atrium Health has leading healthcare experts monitoring the situation around the clock and we are prepared to implement any needed part of our plans for an increase in patients, as necessary. With our COVID-Safe protocols in place, anyone needing any kind of emergency treatment should not delay care and should seek immediate attention.”

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