‘We’re in a crisis’: Utah’s ICU beds above functionally full level

Aug 26, 2021, 6:49 PM | Updated: Aug 27, 2021, 11:25 am

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Hospital Association said the state’s health care system is once again in a crisis situation as intensive care units fill up with sick COVID-19 patients.

“We’re in the middle of a significant surge,” said Greg Bell, president of the Utah Hospital Association. “An upswing in the number of infections and in the number of hospitalizations.”

Summer is already a busy time for hospitals, Bell said, and the current COVID surge comes as Utah has about 30 fewer available ICU beds than during the last spike in hospitalizations at the beginning of the year.


“Physically we haven’t lost any beds. But we’ve lost a lot of staff,” Bell explained. “We’re not able to staff as many beds because of the burnout and turnover.”

The Utah Department of Health reported on Thursday that 463 people are hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and that 185 of those patients are in ICUs.

To underscore just how critical the hospital bed situation is becoming, Bell said that so far this month there have been 206 transfer requests in Utah from one hospital system to a different hospital system.

“Basically 10 cases a day are being diverted or transferred so that we can load-balance among the various systems,” he said. “That just doesn’t happen in normal life — very, very rare. So to have this kind of volume and that kind of transfers just shows you we’re in a crisis.”


Across the state, ICU beds were 89% full while ICU beds in referral centers reached 91% utilization on Thursday.

“Referral centers are the 16 hospitals in Utah with the capability to provide the best care for patients with COVID-19,” reads the description on the state’s COVID-19 website. “Because most patients are transferred to these facilities, their utilization is the best reflection of the true hospital capacity in Utah when looking at ICU beds.”

When Utah’s ICU beds are 72% full, the state health department said it “creates major strains on the health care system.”

“When 85% capacity is reached, Utah will be functionally out of staffed ICU beds, indicating an overwhelmed hospital system,” according to the website.

Unlike over the winter months when Utah’s hospitals were last full, Bell said the delta variant is causing pediatric cases and pediatric hospitalizations.

“There’s a myth out there that the illness is not afflicting children — it is,” Bell said. “Delta is infecting and sickening children at an alarming rate.”

The concern over hospital beds for children comes as cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are also increasing.

“All of a sudden in August, really out of cycle, we’ve had this very, very strong push of RSV infections,” Bell said. “Consequently, Primary Children’s is really feeling a lot of pressure.”

Primary Children’s Hospital said that construction and flooding after a rainstorm at the beginning of August made 20% of its beds unavailable.

“The hospital has been able to reopen about half the rooms and continues to work to maintain staffing levels during the surge in patients from illnesses and injuries including traumas, RSV and COVID,” Primary Children’s Hospital said in a statement.

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‘We’re in a crisis’: Utah’s ICU beds above functionally full level