Throughout much of California, the number of available beds in hospital intensive care units has diminished alarmingly fast as COVID-19 infection rates continue to soar. Hospitals in a number of counties are reporting little to no ICU capacity, leaving health care workers scrambling to accommodate the stream of new patients in need of urgent care.
“We are at the point where we are having to triage who deserves an ICU bed and who doesn’t,” Amy Arlund, a registered nurse at Kaiser Permanente's Fresno Medical Center, recently told KQED reporter Lesley McClurg. “We have to look at the severity of each patient and evaluate the chances of survival and pick the best candidate for a bed.”
In an effort to keep hospitals from quickly becoming overwhelmed with new coronavirus patients, Gov. Gavin Newsom in early December issued a strict new stay-at-home order for vast regions of the state where ICU bed capacity has fallen below 15%. The vast majority of California residents are now under that order.
And as Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the California Hospital Association, told McClurg, even an empty ICU bed doesn't necessarily mean there are enough staff available to provide adequate care.
“The most important limiting factor is staff,” she said. “Those critical care nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists that are needed at the bedside to care and to cure.”