COVID-19 patients keeping area ICUs busy

Published 5:18 pm Tuesday, March 2, 2021

In a normal year, about five million people are admitted into hospital intensive care units, and on average, they are about two-thirds full, according to the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

This has not been a normal year between COVID-19 and patients delaying care for other illnesses, keeping ICUs across the country full. It has been no exception in Western Tidewater.

COVID-19 has ravaged the world’s population, and in the United States, has killed more than 500,000 people in the past year.

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In Virginia, it has killed 8,197 people as of Feb. 26.

In the Western Tidewater Health District — inclusive of the cities of Suffolk and Franklin and Isle of Wight and Southampton counties — it has taken the lives of 281 people.

Suffolk has seen 151 people, alone, die from COVID-19, another 52 have died in Southampton, 52 in Isle of Wight and 26 in Franklin.

Its strain has been felt most acutely in the ICU, and at hospitals throughout South Hampton Roads and Western Tidewater, they started reaching capacity levels in late January and at several, they have not eased up.

According to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, ICU occupancy at hospitals in the state stands at 80% as of Feb. 26, but including surge bed capacity, it’s at 52%.

Pre-COVID-19, ICU capacity at state hospitals averaged about 67%, according to the VHHA. As of Feb. 26, there were 1,481 confirmed positive COVID-19 patients, or those whose test results are pending, in the hospital, with 313 in the ICU and 187 on ventilators.

Dr. Mike Dacey, president and chief operating officer at Riverside Health System, noted that the peak census across Virginia at the beginning of the month was about 3,000 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 and 600 in the ICU, and in the Eastern Region, it was 800 hospitalized and about 150 in the ICU.

ICU capacity has been at around 80% or higher at several regional hospitals over the past several weeks, making them among the fullest, percentage-wise, in the state.

The ICU at Sentara Obici Hospital in Suffolk is at 101% capacity — the highest in Virginia — with 33 COVID-19 patients and no available beds, according to the most recent data being from the week updated Feb. 21 — inclusive of Feb. 12 through Feb. 18 — by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Its data is updated weekly.

Bon Secours’ Southampton Memorial Hospital in Franklin has also seen ICU capacities at or near 100%, though it is currently at 73% capacity with six COVID-19 patients and two available beds.

Chesapeake Memorial Hospital, meanwhile, has 64 COVID-19 patients, just two available beds in its ICU and is at 92% capacity. It, too, has at times been overcapacity since the start of the new year.

At Hampton’s Sentara Careplex, its ICU is at 97% capacity with 37 patients, and the ICU at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News is at 78% capacity, with 44 COVID-19 patients in its ICU.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations may be decreasing after a holiday surge, but capacity is still an issue among those with more serious symptoms and non-COVID-19 patients who are coming into hospitals with more acuity due to delaying treatment.


Obici not turning anyone away

At Sentara Obici, it has added capacity to its normal, 12-bed ICU, but according to Sentara Healthcare spokesman Dale Gauding, it has not had to divert ambulance traffic to other hospitals, and has no plans to do so.

“Sentara Obici … and those at other Sentara hospitals often operate close to capacity in normal times,” Gauding said in a statement. “The way we address COVID-19 challenges is by flexing other spaces and putting bedside equipment where it is needed to serve critical care patients.”

Gauding said that can include a post-anesthesia care unit, or a step-down unit that transitions patients from the ICU to regular beds.

Even increasing to 16 beds, Sentara Obici’s ICU has been overcapacity for five out of the last six weeks — with roughly half of its ICU each week filled with COVID-19 patients except for the most recent week reported, in which it was about a quarter full of such patients.


Riverside, state trending ‘downward … but they’re still dramatically higher’

Last week, at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, its ICU was at 78% capacity, with 44 COVID-19 patients and 15 available ICU beds.

Dacey said that, like other hospitals, Riverside can work within its system, and with other systems, to ease patient loads.

“We send patients back and forth all the time for ICUs and that, by the way, is not uncommon,” Dacey said. “That happened during regular times as well. Each health system has a transfer center and they coordinate that so if Riverside is full and has no capacity, the patients may go to Sentara and vice versa.”