SALT LAKE CITY — From the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic, public health leaders in Utah have been clear that the chief number guiding decisions is hospital capacity, especially when it comes to precious intensive care unit beds.
The confusing thing is the focus on the word “bed,” because that’s not really the appropriate way to judge capacity. There are three clarifying distinctions:
- It’s about STAFFED beds.
- It’s even more about STAFFED ADULT beds.
- And it’s even more about STAFFED ADULT beds at REFERRAL hospitals.
That first one is obvious as a bed without nurses and doctors doesn’t do much.
Utah’s hospitals, according to data updated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at the end of December, have 1,036 ICU beds, but only sixty of those beds are staffed.
However, that’s not a scandal of understaffing. The extra bed space is mostly in the newest hospitals built by Intermountain Health Care: Intermountain Medical Center, McKay Dee Hospital, Utah Valley Hospital, and Dixie Regional Medical Center.
When you build brand new hospitals, you build for decades into the future when the population is larger and more space is needed.
Why point out the need for adult beds specifically? Thankfully, COVID-19 has not sent many Utah children to intensive care, so the beds available at Primary Childrens’ Hospital are not a crucial part of the COVID equation.
Utah has 623 staffed adult ICU beds.
But that last distinction is also important. Referral hospitals are the big institutions with lots of specialists. They’re the places where you send the most serious patients who need care beyond the resources of small community hospitals.
The Utah Department of Health considers 453 ICU beds to be those coveted staffed adult beds at referral hospitals.
The state is in real trouble when those hospitals reach capacity, and that’s the danger we’re all trying to avoid with masks and social distancing and, eventually, vaccines.