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Utah health care providers concerned about ICU capacity

Posted at 6:11 PM, Oct 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-17 20:13:06-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is continuing to see an increase in hospitalizations due to the novel coronavirus.

Intensive care units across the state are full or nearly full because of the influx of patients. For example, the ICU at the University of Utah Hospital was at 104 percent capacity on Friday. Doctors said on Saturday that things were beginning to improve, but they are pleading with the community to take the steps necessary to prevent a continued strain on the state's health care facilities.

"We're about 94 percent capacity this morning," said Dr. Russell Vinik, the chief medical operations officer at the University of Utah Hospital. "Which gives us a little breathing room, but not a lot."

Dr. Vinik said if the upward trend in hospitalizations continues, the ICU may not be able to handle all the new patients.

"Currently, we at the University of Utah are able to staff all of our beds," Dr. Vinik said. "But that may not be the case going forward if disease continues to worsen."

Dr. Todd Vento, medical director of Intermountain Healthcare's telehealth infectious disease service, said facilities across Utah are facing down the same scenario.

"We're either at capacity, beyond capacity, or approaching capacity in different health care systems around the state," Dr. Vento said.

With cases of the seasonal flu adding to the stress, Dr. Vento said the outlook is grim unless things begin to change.

"We're rowing a boat down the river right now, and we're taking on water," he said. "We'd hope to say that we're going to hit shore and see sunshine, but instead a flood and a storm are coming ahead of us."

For staff at both the U of U Hospital and Intermountain, the added strain on the ICU means more shifts and more time spent at the hospital.

"We're staffing our surge unit with people picking up extra shifts, working extra hours and picking up shifts that they normally wouldn't," Dr. Vinik said.

"We have ICU nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, other workers working overtime, extra time, extra shifts," added Dr. Vento.

Because of this added strain, the U of U Hospital has had to delay what they call "non-time-sensitive procedures" to ensure they have the extra space needed to deal with all the new patients.

"There's a point when you can't cut back any further, and then what we have to do is stretch our staff even more than what we're currently doing," Dr. Vinik said. "And that's not good for patient care."

Doctors from both hospitals are pleading with the community to follow health safety protocols to help stop the spread of the virus.

"It's when we start not doing those measures, and our ICUs start bulging at the seams, when we have to take these second and third line measures," Dr. Vento said. "And that's the part that we don't want to get to."

Dr. Vento said social distancing, wearing a mask, and limiting large gatherings are the biggest things people can do to help overwhelmed hospitals.