Utah Hospitals Feeling Strain As ICU Hospitalizations Rise

Oct 8, 2020, 11:14 PM | Updated: 11:21 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah’s biggest hospitals are raising concerns as ICU hospitalizations continue to rise and the state saw a record-high number of new COVID-19 cases Thursday.

Officials said ICU hospitalizations hit 95% at the University of Utah Hospital, but the bigger concern is staffing ICUs statewide.

Health and state leaders said Utah just doesn’t have the resources to properly care for patients if it continues on the path it’s on.

Health officials made an impassioned plea during Gov. Gary Herbert’s weekly COVID-19 press briefing Thursday, saying wearing a mask isn’t about politics, but saving lives as the increase in hospitalizations is straining resources.

Gov. Gary Herbert holds press conference with updates on COVID-19 in Utah

LIVE: Gov. Gary Herbert is holding a press conference with updates on COVID-19 in Utah.

Posted by KSL 5 TV on Thursday, October 8, 2020

“We have great leadership, but people are really tired,” said Dr. Emily Spivak, associate professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and medical director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Programs at University of Utah Health. 

Health officials from the state’s major health care providers weighed in to say the spike in COVID-19 cases is not a path the state can afford.

“Now, our hospitalizations across Intermountain network is higher than it has ever been,” said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare. “We are setting new daily records of hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients.”

Stenehjem spoke during a separate Facebook live briefing for Intermountain Healthcare on Thursday. He said the increase in hospitalizations follows the recent spike in COVID-19 cases among young adults.

COVID-19 Community Update Dr. Stenehjem

COVID-19 Community Update with Dr. Stenehjem.

Posted by Intermountain Healthcare on Thursday, October 8, 2020

“The 15-24-year-olds have taken those infections home with them and spread them to mom dad, grandma and grandpa,” Stenehjem said. “The huge concern about that is that 15-24-year-olds don’t often don’t get hospitalized, but the 25 and up, particularly those above age 50, those are the ones that will fill our hospitals.”

The Utah Hospital Association said there are about 96 ICU beds currently available in the state. In total health care providers that can treat COVID-19 patients have a max capacity of 457 ICU beds. Those beds are also used to treat patients with other conditions, so an influx in COVID-19 patients also overwhelms resources available to other patients.

ICU Bed Breakdown

Total Beds: 457

Currently In Use: 361

Beds Remaining: 96

ICU Beds Within Each System

Intermountain Healthcare: 200 ICU Beds

University of Utah Health: 111 ICU Beds

MountainStar Healthcare: 74 ICU Beds

Steward Health Care System: 72 ICU Beds

However, the greater concern for health care providers is not having enough doctors to care for the sick.

“Our main concern is with staffing,” said Utah Hospital Association CEO Greg Bell. “Physicians, nurses, pulmonary techs, other highly skilled individuals who care for high-intensity COVID patients have been doing this for seven months. They’re tired, they’re busy, they’re frustrated.”

“Our ICU was 95% full this morning. Our health care workers are tired, suffering, and they don’t want to see another person die alone of a preventable infection,” said Dr. Spivak.  “In addition, if we continue to ignore science and medical recommendations, we will not be able to offer the best quality care that our community deserves.”

Furthermore, if the upward trend continues, it could easily overwhelm medical resources as the flu season kicks off.

“We cannot handle a severe flu pandemic at the same time as a COVID pandemic. We don’t have the health care workers, we don’t have the capacity in our hospitals. If that were to happen you are doing to see makeshift hospitals set up,” Stenehjem said.

However, Stenehjem added that current social distancing measures could also help keep flu cases down.

The solution — though simple — could make all the difference.

“Science has shown that wearing a mask works,” said Jen Wagenaar, MountainStar Healthcare’s chief nursing executive. “It’s masking, it’s handwashing, it’s being cognizant of not touching your face — it’s all of those things in conjunction with one another.”

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Utah Hospitals Feeling Strain As ICU Hospitalizations Rise