Birmingham, Alabama (AP) – As COVID-19 patients rise, the Cullman Regional Medical Center already has more than a dozen intensive care beds and is eagerly exploring options.
Ten beds, usually used for lighter conditions, will be converted into intensive care units and equipped with additional IV equipment. With video monitors, staff can monitor patients anytime nurses have to rush to attend to others.
The patch can at least do the job.
The hospital’s chief physician, Dr. William Smith said last week, “We are like a bathtub filled with water, the drain is clogged.”
Alabama has long been one of the most unhealthy and poorest states in the United States and has become one of the most worrying coronavirus hotspots in the United States.
As the virus rages in areas with high obesity rates, high blood pressure and other areas that could make COVID-19 more dangerous, hospitals in the region are in crisis, medical services in the region are not even available before the outbreak, and the Public Concerns About Masks Stubborn opposition to other preventive measures.
The virus has killed more than 335,000 people in the United States, including more than 4,700 in Alabama. California and Tennessee have also been particularly hard hit in recent weeks.
At Cullman Regional, a medium-sized hospital serving an agricultural area 55 miles north of Birmingham, the intensive care unit had reached 180% of capacity since last week, the highest in the state. Other hospitals are also trying to keep up with the fascination of people infected with the virus.
Smith said that while typical patients may need to be treated in the intensive care unit for two to three days, COVID-19 patients typically stay for two to three weeks, resulting in an increase in medical records.
Alabama ranked sixth in the number of new cases per capita last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The latest Alabama average positive rate (the percentage of tests positive for the virus) is nearly 40%, one of the highest numbers in the country. An average of 46 people die each day in the state, up from 30 on December 14.
For the week of December 18-24, the national intensive care unit capacity was 78%, while the Alabama intensive care unit capacity was 91%, according to the U.S. Department of Health. As of last week, 15 Alabama hospitals have ICUs that have reached or exceeded capacity, and six other hospitals have ICUs that are at least 96% full.
On Monday, 2,800 people in Alabama hospitals were infected with COVID-19, the highest number since the pandemic began.
Experts fear that these pressures will only increase after the holidays due to new infections related to travel and gatherings of family members and friends.
“I think we are in a difficult position. I did it, ”said Dr. Don Williamson, President of the Alabama Hospital Association. “I worry our Christmas wave will be worse than the Thanksgiving wave.”
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey collapsed with some of his colleagues in the south at the time and issued the July national mask permit. However, health officials have worked hard to get people to comply. The Republican governor also issued a full-time order at the start of the pandemic, but was firmly against it. He said, “If you don’t have a livelihood, you can’t live.”
In contrast, California has put strict house orders in areas where ICU utilization has hit 85% in the past few weeks.
“Unfortunately we still have a group of people partying, vacationing and doing unsafe things together,” said Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama State Health Commissioner.
Shennan Prefecture has the highest incidence of certain chronic conditions, increasing the risk of death or serious illness from the coronavirus. Alabama’s adult obesity rate ranks sixth in the US and third among adults with diabetes.
Alabama is also one of a dozen states that have not expanded the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act and therefore have large numbers of uninsured programs. According to the Henry Kaiser Family Foundation, about 15% of people between 19% and 64 years of age have no health insurance and rank 13th in the US.
In the past decade, the state has closed 17 hospitals, most of which are small rural hospitals. This trend has made it unaffordable for regional medical facilities.
Dr. James Boyle said the number of COVID-19 deaths at Decatur Morgan Hospital has tripled since September and the intensive care unit is full. When discussing the possibility of rationing care in the New Year, the pulmonologist tried to keep calm, paused and pursed his lips.
“I’ve been in the county for internships since 1998. In the last 20 years I had never ventilated more than 2 or 3 people with the flu, ”he said. “In winter we always have a lot of patients in the intensive care unit. It is unprecedented that 16 patients suffer from diseases that we normally do not have on the ventilator. “
UAB Hospital, affiliated with the University of Alabama in Birmingham, has recruited retired nurses and dozens of teachers and students from its nursing school.
Alabama hospitals are receiving calls from neighboring countries like Mississippi and Tennessee because doctors are looking for additional space for COVID-19 patients but cannot provide assistance as often as they used to. Same goes for the state where hospitals may not be able to help patients after disasters like tornadoes to help patients.
With thousands of people vaccinated with the first of the two vaccines needed to prevent COVID-19, the end of the pandemic is imminent. At the same time, however, the number of deaths among medical staff is also increasing.
“We saw death. This is part of what we do. This is part of our training, ”said Boyle. “The difficulties this year are enormous. We cannot be sad for one patient, we have to take care of another patient. “
Associate press writer Kim Chandler of Montgomery, Alabama wrote this story.