Nov 24, 2020 - Health

What overwhelmed hospitals look like

A picture of a health care professional wearing a yellow isolation suit putting on a blue N95 mask

A healthcare professional suits up to enter a COVID-19 patient's room in the ICU at Van Wert County Hospital in Ohio. Photo: Megan Jelinger/AFP

Utah doctors are doing what they say is the equivalent of rationing care. Intensive care beds in Minnesota are nearly full. And the country overall continues to break hospitalization records — all as millions of Americans travel to spend Thanksgiving with friends and family.

Why it matters: America's health care workers are exhausted, and the sickest coronavirus patients aren't receiving the kind of care that could make the difference between living and dying.

The big picture: Some overwhelmed hospitals are sending patients away to receive care elsewhere, while others are reducing the quality of care that their patients receive — a byproduct of being short-staffed.

  • For example, 75% of counties in Kansas and Missouri don't have any ICU beds, so these patients are sent to city hospitals — some of which are starting to crack under the increased caseload, NPR reports.
  • "It's not just the rural health care infrastructure that becomes overwhelmed when there aren't enough hospital beds, it's also the surrounding neighborhoods, the suburbs, the urban hospital infrastructure starts to become overwhelmed as well," Shannon Monnat, a rural health researcher at Syracuse University, told NPR.

What they're saying: "There are things going on right now that wouldn't normally happen," Andy Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious disease at the University of Utah, told the Salt Lake Tribune.

  • "Patients from Idaho are not being accepted. People are staying in small community hospitals rather than coming to referral hospitals, where the greater [technical] sophistication is. It's just not the point where people are stacked up in the hallways with no bed."

The bottom line: One of the nation's most finite resources in our fight against COVID is health care workers. In too many places, they're reaching capacity.

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