Utah’s ICU Beds Approaching Functional Capacity

Nov 11, 2020, 8:19 PM | Updated: 11:49 pm

MURRAY, Utah – Health officials warned on Wednesday that intensive care unit capacity in Utah hospitals continued to approach the “functionally full” level that has the possibility of overwhelming our hospital system.

There are currently 446 Utah patients hospitalized for confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Utah Department of Health. Of those patients, 182 are in ICUs.

At the 16 Utah hospitals that are considered referral centers because they provide the best care for patients with COVID-19, the ICUs are at 82% utilization. That’s just shy of the 85% threshold that means Utah is functionally out of staffed ICU beds. 

“That’s really getting to the point where we’re going to have a significant problem on our hands,” said Tom Hudachko, director of communications for the Utah Department of Health. “Once we start to see that reaching 85 to 87%, we’ve essentially maxed out, because even though you’re not at 100%, it becomes an issue of staffing as well.” 

The ICU capacity situation is only slightly better — at a 76% ICU utilization rate — when considering all hospitals in Utah. However, the state health department said the 16 referral centers’ utilization rate of 82% is the best measure of true ICU bed capacity. 

“If you live in rural areas of the state and you contract COVID-19 and you become severely ill, there’s a good chance you’re going to be transferred to an ICU outside of your area,” Hudachko said. 

Preventing hospital overcrowding was the main reason for Gov. Gary Herbert’s new state of emergency and statewide mask mandate issued on Sunday. 

“To make a real difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and turning around the dire situation in our hospitals, we all need to do more,” Herbert said in a statement, adding that overworked health care workers “desperately need our help.” 

Over the past two months, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Utah have increased 400%, according to the health department. Doctors said COVID-19 patients put more of a strain on hospital workers because of the amount of care required. 

“Pretty soon, you actually have to start looking at the possibility that you will not be able to provide that level of care for someone who possibly is dying because it will take so many resources — that it will take away from one, two, three other patients,” said Dr. Todd Vento, an infectious disease physician at Intermountain Healthcare. 

The state health department warned last week that if the situation worsens, rural hospitals may not have the option to transfer serious patients to referral hospitals. 

“And even at referral hospitals, patients will increasingly be cared for by doctors and nurses who are acting outside their specialty and/or are caring for more patients than is ideal,” department officials said.

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Utah’s ICU Beds Approaching Functional Capacity