Only 21 beds open in Columbus area; hospitals say they're overrun with COVID patients
Fewer than two-dozen hospital beds remained open in Franklin County on Thursday, forcing hospital leaders to again sound the alarm on surging COVID-19 infections.
Intensive care units in the greater Columbus region are at "critical capacity," hospital leaders wrote in a Thursday letter to The Dispatch. Urgent care centers are similarly swamped and hundreds of patients are waiting in emergency departments for beds to open up so they can be admitted, wrote Mount Carmel CEO Lorraine Lutton, OhioHealth CEO Dr. Steve Markovich, Nationwide Children's Hospital CEO Tim Robinson and Dr. Andrew Thomas, chief clinical officer at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.
In Franklin County alone, just 10 of 562 ICU beds were available as of Thursday morning and 11 of the county's 2,276 general medical or surgical beds were open, said Jeff Klingler, president and CEO of the Central Ohio Hospital Council.
"These numbers are really sobering. They're like nothing I've ever seen before," said Klingler, who has worked with area hospitals for 13 years.
At least 3,580 Ohioans were hospitalized with the virus as of Thursday, with thousands being diagnosed with the disease each day. On Thursday, 8,349 new cases of COVID-19 were reported, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
In their letter, the hospital leaders ask that patients consider the best option for their care if they suspect they have COVID-19.
They also suggested patients seek help from their primary care doctor before going to an emergency department or urgent care location. Telemedicine, which became more available during the pandemic, is also a good option if people suspect they have COVID and need medical advice or treatment, the hospital leaders wrote in their letter.
"We always want people to call 911 and come to our emergency departments if they need lifesaving care ... But unless your COVID-19 symptoms are worsening or life-threatening, you have better care options that can help us stay focused on delivering advanced care to those who need it most," the letter states.
The hospital leaders encouraged central Ohioans who think they have COVID-19 to get tested. But people who suspect they have COVID should look somewhere besides a hospital for a test.
Klingler recommended people first check out testing opportunities at retail pharmacies, health departments and area libraries. Having a ton of people waiting for a COVID test in an emergency department that may already be overrun with critically ill patients can exacerbate" the challenges of treating so many patients at once, Klingler said.
As Columbus-area hospitals struggle to keep up with demand, some rural hospitals have already reported filling up completely.
Leaders of the 248-patient bed Southern Ohio Medical Center in Portsmouth said they may be forced to open a fourth COVID unit. King's Daughters Medical Center, which has locations in Portsmouth and Ashland, Kentucky, had no ICU beds available late last week.
With rural hospitals full, Klingler said patients have to go somewhere and that place could be a Columbus hospital.
"What you're hearing about in southern and southeast Ohio impacts central Ohio," Klingler said. "Those smaller, rural hospitals will look to transfer patients up here. In normal times, those transfers would happen regularly. But, under these conditions that ability is strained."
The latest letter comes just weeks after the four CEOs pleaded with the public to help slow the spread of the virus. In the Aug. 27 letter, the leaders warned "safety net is now in jeopardy" due to the staggering rise in COVID hospitalizations.
ICU capacity remains varied at Columbus-area hospitals, with at least four near or above 90% full the week of Sept. 3, the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
OhioHealth's Doctors Hospital ICU was at 99% capacity while Riverside Methodist Hospital's ICU was 98% full and Grant Medical Center was 93% full as of the week of Sept. 3. Ohio State Wexner Medical Center was 89.9% full, data shows.
The capacity crunch is forcing hospitals to make difficult decisions right now, like rescheduling elective procedures and limiting patient visitors, Ohio Department of Health director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said during a Thursday news briefing. In late August, OhioHealth announced it would delay elective procedures requiring an overnight stay on a case-by-case basis at its busiest hospitals.
"We're in a serious situation," Vanderhoff said. "Hospitals are being stretched toward capacity."
Along with an elevated number of new COVID cases overall, infections among kids have also become increasingly common in the latest wave of the pandemic. The week of Aug. 29, 11,729 children were diagnosed with the virus, which was more than at any other time in the pandemic, state data shows.
The best way to slow the latest spike in cases continues to be vaccination and mask wearing, the hospital leaders said in their Thursday letter.
So far, more than 6.2 million Ohioans, or 53% of the state, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, state data shows. In Franklin County, more than 57% of residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
"The means to end this pandemic are here, but we’re not yet at the end of the road," the letter reads. "Please help us, by seeking the right care, at the right place, at the right time."