Overwhelmed with record numbers of COVID-19 patients, hundreds of intensive care units in the United States are running out of space and supplies, competing to hire temporary nurses especially in the south and west of the country.
An Associated Press analysis of federal hospital data shows that since November, the number of hospitals in the United States that are on edge has nearly doubled. More than 40% of Americans now live in places that run out of space in ICUs, with only 15% of beds available.
ICUs are the last option for the sickest people, patients who are on the verge of suffocation or have organ failure. Nurses working in the most overwhelmed ICUs, changing IV bags and monitoring patients on ventilators, are exhausted.
“You can’t push great people all the time, right? It’s just impossible, ”said Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom, who is among many hospital managers waiting for the numbers of severely ill COVID-19 patients to begin to stabilize. Worryingly, there are an average of 20,000 new cases every day in Texas, which has the third-highest death rate in the country and more than 13,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19-related symptoms.
According to data compiled as of Thursday from the COVID Tracking Project, hospitalizations remain high in the west and south of the country, with more than 80,000 although they have begun to stabilize or are beginning to decrease. It is not clear if this trend will continue as the most contagious variants of the virus and problems in vaccine distribution increase.
In New Mexico, an emerging hospital system hired 300 temporary nurses from other states at a cost of millions of dollars to deal with the overcrowding of intensive care patients who were cared for in adapted procedure rooms and operating rooms.
“It’s been horrible,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief physician for Presbyterian Health Care Services in Albuquerque. He takes comfort in the fact that the hospital never activated its plan to streamline life-saving care, which would have required a triage team to numerically score patients based on their chances of survival.
“It’s a relief we never had to,” Mitchell said. “It sounds creepy because it’s creepy.”
Associated Press reporters Marion Renault in Rochester, Minnesota, Nomaan Merchant in Houston and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.