As COVID-19 cases continue to rise at a fairly rapid rate, so too are the hospitalizations in Mecklenburg County.
While it’s completely normal for hospitals to run anywhere from 90%-105% capacity even when there isn’t a global pandemic, the numbers hospitalized statewide and locally in intensive care units are attention grabbing, especially with Atrium Health, even if in reality things truly aren’t as bad as they might seem.
Atrium’s biggest hospital in N.C., is Carolina’s Medical Center (CMC) in Charlotte, and normally has 107 ICU beds. As of Wednesday, there were 112 patients, which is five more than normal capacity. Moreover, the doubling up of COVID-19 patients in its ICU has happened and they are now being put into different sectors of ICU, such as neurology ICU and surgical ICU.
All told, 53 of CMC’s 112 ICU patients have tested positive, with roughly 30 of them having been put on a ventilator.
However, the situation at other Atrium hospitals isn’t quite as bad, though they’re not great.
The Atrium hospital near UNC Charlotte has 12 of its 16 beds filled with patients that have tested positive. Also, the hospital has closed its endoscopy unit used for colonoscopies and is now using it as an ICU for COVID-19 patients.
Atrium’s hospital in Monroe has 18 beds and all 18 beds are in use, with 13 of the patients having tested positive.
At Atrium’s Pineville location, there 30 ICU beds, 19 of which are being used by patients having tested positive. The hospital still has four empty ICU beds.
In Atrium’s Concord hospital, there are 54 total ICU beds, with 22 of them being used by patients that tested positive. There are seven empty beds.
Statewide, there are nine Atrium hospitals that have a total of 278 ICU beds and just over 53% of them are being used by people that have tested positive.
But while the numbers may seem jarring at first glance, it should be noted that as the rate of COVID-19 patients in local hospitals continue to rise, and some like CMC may technically be over capacity in its ICU, truthfully each hospital has the ability to increase its normal allotment by 50% rather quickly.
“Most hospitals across the state have been given permission to increase bed capacity if the need arises,” Atrium Health said in a statement. “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 chance 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 state, as the denominator changes, so will the capacity percentage.”
When asked to comment directly about the doubling up of COVID-19 patients in ICU rooms, there was no response.
From the onset of the pandemic, Atrium Health in Charlotte has by far dealt with the most patients hospitalized due to COVID-19, but Novant Health is having issues, too, especially when it comes to having enough workers.
“Make no mistake about it: we are concerned by current inpatient numbers, which are at historic highs, as well as modeling that does not show the decline we need to see,” Novant Health said in a statement. “We do, however, have additional surge planning levers we can pull, enabling us to continue caring for all critical and non-critical patients.
“Staffing remains our primary concern as we easily add physical bed capacity, but cannot as easily add the clinical care teams that support them. We are redeploying team members, calling for qualified nurses to return to the bedside and are contracting with several traveling nurses and support staff.
“Today, we have the necessary beds, staffing and PPE to care for all those who need it. We need the help of our communities to ensure this continues to be the case in the weeks ahead.”
Staffing shortages are also a concern at some of Atrium’s hospitals and the health system very well may use traveling nurses, too.
Yes, there is reason for concern as Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said Thursday afternoon that projections are infections will continue to escalate through mid-February.
But at the same point, the fact that neither Novant or Atrium have stopped elective surgeries as they did in the spring, and that both can easily increase their capacity by some 50% rather quickly shows that from a number’s standpoint, they can handle it.
Harris even said Thursday that there are no plans for a field hospital at this time and it hasn’t even been discussed.
The main immediate concern for each hospital system is if there will be enough nurses and other medical personnel to handle the rise in patients.