2 in 5 Americans living where COVID-19 has strained hospital ICUs

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With the ever-increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients in the USA, hundreds of intensive care units across our nation are running out of space and supplies.

According to a recent report by the Associated Press, medical centers are now competing to hire temporary traveling nurses in order to help reduce the crisis.

The hotspots for the problem are mainly in the South and West. The report analyzed federal hospital data and concluded that since November, the number of U.S. hospitals approaching capacity (and breaking point) has doubled.

The data also shows that 40% of Americans are currently living in areas where ICU space is running out. Many areas have only 15% of beds still available for critical COVID-19 patients.

Breaking point for the country’s Intensive Care Units

new 2-in-5-Americans-live-where-COVID-19-strains-hospital-ICUs
Image Credit: Associated Press

As we all know, intensive care units are the last line of defense for patients in critical condition. In cases where COVID-19 infection has led to near suffocation or facing organ failure, ICU is there only hope of recovery.

Furthermore, with conditions at full capacity, nurses that are working the frontline in these ICUs, are completely exhausted.

As Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom told the Associated Press: “You can’t push great people forever. Right? I mean, it just isn’t possible.”

He is one of many hospital leaders in the south that hopes critically ill COVID-19 patients will begin to plateau after this recent surge.

The numbers are bleak, however. An average of 20,000 new cases is occurring a day in Texas. The state now has the third-highest death count in the country. More than 13,000 people are currently in hospital with COVID-19-related symptoms.

The COVID Tracking Project

The COVID Tracking Project has collected data that shows hospitals in the West and the South, now have a combined 80,000 COVID-19 related patients.

Even more horrific since I last reported on the numbers, reported cases in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic has now surpassed 25 million (according to the Johns Hopkins University).

In New Mexico, a single hospital system was forced to bring in 300 temporary nurses from outside the state. The extra cost to the local government is now in the millions of dollars in order to provide this extra care, (along with the infrastructure for treatment).

While in general, hospitals are managing to uphold high standards for patient care, the end may be close for the continuation of normal medical practices.

Hospitals that have reached their breaking point might be forced to mobilize makeshift ICUs. Furthermore, they may have no choice but to staff them with personnel that do not have any experience in critical care.

There is also the risk that sedatives, antibiotics, and IV supplies could run short.

If this occurs across hospitals in the south and west, COVID related deaths will undoubtedly increase as a result.

NOTE: Associated Press writers Marion Renault in Rochester, Minnesota, Nomaan Merchant in Houston, and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to the report data that has been included in this article.

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About Hannah Drake

Hannah Drake, RN, CSP is a registered nurse and owner and founder of Nurse Focus. Her nursing career spans almost two decades, and in that time she has developed her skill base across a variety of settings, including med surg nursing, clinical informatics system administration and implementation, and healthcare community management. Contact Hannah.

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