4 News Now Q&A: At what point does a hospital become ‘overwhelmed’?

Your Questions Answered

Q: At what point does a hospital become ‘overwhelmed’? 

You have heard it from the mouths of doctors and nurses working on the frontlines: hospitals around the world are overwhelmed. Some are even at their breaking point. 

A: It is important to remember, most hospitals usually operate somewhere near their capacity. This means there is not a lot of excess room during normal times.

A study published in April showed 63 percent of ICU beds in United States hospitals were occupied before the pandemic, leaving the nation’s healthcare system with about 32,000 empty ICU beds to begin with.

As the U.S. faces the latest surge of COVID cases, the number of people needing to be hospitalized is climbing so quickly that it’s stretching even the most well-prepared hospitals thin.

Staff availability and burnout, limited space and supplies and a lack of ICU beds are the biggest issues hospitals are dealing with, and they come at a high cost.

A new study by the U.S. Premier Healthcare Database found nearly one in every four COVID deaths may be attributed to hospital strain.

Currently, Spokane County has more people in the hospital with COVID than any other time during the pandemic.

“We’re also seeing significant delays in people getting the normal care that they receive,” Providence Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dan Getz said. “When we look at area ERs, the waits in waiting rooms are significantly higher and that is a delay of care. We’re doing everything we can to keep up with the pace of patients who need hospitalized care, but people need to realize, healthcare workers are a limited resource. We can only do so much.”

About 95 percent of those hospitalized in Spokane County hospitalized are unvaccinated, so health experts say the best way to help ease the burden on the healthcare system is to get the shot.

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