We’ve seen a range of news reports over the last few days that focus on healthcare facilities being overrun with COVID-19 patients. The sunbelt states are getting hit especially hard, including Texas and the Houston area, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, and California. Many of these states are far along in their plans to reopen as young people flock to parks, restaurants, and bars.
While the numbers of hospitalizations, confirmed cases and deaths continue to rise across the country, we wanted to take a closer look at what’s been happening on the ground. In a poll conducted on our Facebook page, we asked 2 million medical professionals across America if their hospitals are overrun due to COVID-19. The results were surprising.
81% Say Their Hospital is Not Overrun
An overwhelming majority said that their facility can handle the influx of virus patients, but that doesn’t tell the entire story.
We heard from nurses in dozens of states. They paint a convoluted picture of the situation on the ground. Some say they have been short-staffed; others are running out of room for both COVID-19 and non-virus patients, and some are working more than they’re used to in order to keep up with demand.
Based on the results of the poll, we’re not dealing with the same kind of public health crisis we were back in March. For one, most new infections are being attributed to those under the age of 50. These patients are more likely to recover from the virus and less likely to end up on a ventilator.
A spike in cases may make for a great headline, but it doesn’t mean all facilities are being overrun with COVID-19 patients.
As Jenna C. wrote on Facebook:
“Ours is not overrun. We have an increasing rate of infection, but our hospitalizations rates haven’t gone up hardly at all. Over the weekend, our hospital was at 85% capacity and the media made it seem like it was all due to COVID-19. We had 20 virus patients at the time out of 330 beds. Hospital was back down to about 50% capacity the other day.”
The Return of Elective Surgeries
However, this doesn’t mean that all is well in the U.S. healthcare industry. Many hospitals have been suffering from a lack of revenue in recent months with elective procedures on hold. Elective surgeries make up the bulk of hospital revenue, bringing in about $700 more per admission than emergency room admissions, according to Kaiser Health News.
Treating individuals for COVID-19 doesn’t bring in a lot of money. Over the last few months, patients young and old have been staying away from the local hospitals and doctor’s offices to limit their chances of exposure. We’re now facing a backlog of elective surgeries, which only adds to the demand for medical care.
The return of elective surgeries may push some facilities over the edge as they try to admit as many non-virus patients as possible. Hospitals are desperate to earn more revenue, but the pandemic lingers on, putting a strain on existing staff.
Lisa S. commented on the poll, “We can cope with the COVID-19 patients, but we are low on staff, so it’s a catch 22. But overrun? No!”
This lack of revenue can be a double-edged sword. Nearly half of physician’s practices have had to lay off or furlough workers in recent months. The same is true of large hospitals as well. An analysis by the Hospital and Health Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) shows that “hospital operating margins dropped by an estimated $914 million compared to expectations.”
With less staff, nurses are working overtime to deal with the added influx of patients, including those seeking routine medical care, elective surgeries, and treatment for COVID-19.
As one nurse commented, “We are overrun because we are having to open more floors and rooms for normal patients. We only have 20 Covid-19 patients, but this puts a strain on other areas of the hospital.”
Watch Out for Sudden Spikes
Even if most new cases are being attributed to younger patients, individuals should still do their best to limit the spread of infection. A birthday party, trip to the bar, or a night out could easily lead to hundreds of new infections. A facility may be fine one day and overrun the next, if a few locals decide to gather in large groups or leave their face masks at home.
A recent surge in coronavirus cases nearly overwhelmed Elkhart General Hospital in Indiana. Just a week ago, the hospital was inching toward maximum capacity, which prompted the county to make wearing a mask mandatory when going out in public. This has helped flatten the curve in recent days. A small change in public policy can make all the difference.
If our poll is correct and 81% of facilities are not being overrun, there are still around 19% that are. Public health officials need to take this pandemic seriously if we are going to get back to normal. Remind your patients to wear a mask today if they want to avoid an outbreak tomorrow.