Alabama facing ICU bed ‘crunch’ as hospitals scramble to adapt

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Alabama is battling a growing ICU bed shortage as the state trails the rest of the nation in fully vaccinated residents.

The state Tuesday saw an ICU bed shortage of 29.

State hospitals officially have 1,543 ICU beds available in the state.

On Wednesday, there were 1,572 patients in need of ICU care.

Even in January, with more than 3,000 people hospitalized, Alabama didn’t have an ICU bed deficit, Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told News 19 Tuesday.

“Keep in mind the drain on our health care system now, we’re in the negative for ICU beds, in the state of Alabama. What does that mean? That means we have no more designated ICU beds and now we’re having to make adjustments, in the ways that we manage patients, in order to give them that same level of high-quality care that all health care providers and physicians want.” Dr. Karen Landers explained at the Huntsville Madison County COVID briefing on Wednesday morning. “I want the same thing for every patient that I want for my own family.”

Hospitals are racing to adapt. They are converting emergency room space, regular rooms and even hallways for ICU care.

Williamson said ICU beds are filling at a faster rate than was seen in January with a substantially lower number of overall patients.

“Down in southwest Alabama and southeast Alabama they are holding dozens of more patients than have ICU beds for,” Williamson said.

The numbers of available beds vary by region, he said, but “demand is increasing and nobody has significant number of ICU beds in Alabama.”

On January 4, 2021, there was a total of 507 COVID-19 patients in the Huntsville Hospital Health System, of those 133 patients were in the ICU. That equals about 26% of COVID-19 patients in the ICU.

On August 17, 2021, there were a total of 326 COVID-19 patients in the system, with 105 patients in the ICU. On Tuesday, 32% of COVID-19 patients were in the ICU with 181 fewer patients than in January.

Huntsville Hospital Health System January 4, 2021, and August 17, 2021 numbers

Dr. Williamson also said that he hoped because these were 35-year-old [patients] they would have better outcomes, but there is no evidence the disease is any less severe for them than their older counterparts in January.

Williamson said Alabama has plenty of necessary equipment, including ventilators. Hospitals have space they can use to care for more patients. The challenge is finding enough staff. With the surge in covid cases, that problem is growing worse.

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