Louisville-area hospitals confident with ICU bed capacity as COVID-19 cases increase

Louisville-area hospitals confident with ICU bed capacity as COVID-19 cases increase

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - With COVID-19 cases appearing to increase in Kentucky, there is an upside: doctors are reporting a dramatic decline in hospitalizations from the virus.

Norton Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Hester observed the trend in real-time.

“Yeah, that’s true. I think we’re seeing that in the community. While we do see a number of positive cases in the community, they’re not patients that are being admitted,” he explained.

When COVID-19 first surged in the U.S., a potential lack of hospital beds gave way to field hospitals. In Kentucky, field hospitals popped up at the Expo Center in Louisville and Nutter Field in Lexington. Both facilities were never used and were ultimately taken down.

As Kentucky prepares for another potential surge, some of the state’s largest health systems believe they have enough ICU beds to handle it. At the height of the pandemic in Kentucky, hospitals in the Norton Healthcare system cared for 75 coronavirus patients at once, half were in the ICU. Currently, only 35 are still being treated, 5 of those are on ventilators. Norton’s hospitals have a total ICU capacity of about 200 beds.

In the UofL Health system, coronavirus patients peaked at 59 in May. Currently, only 27 are still being treated. UofL has a total ICU capacity of 182 beds.

Medical professionals at Baptist Health saw a similar trend. Coronavirus patients peaked at more than 43 at Baptist’s hospitals in Louisville, La Grange and New Albany. Currently, only 13 are still being treated across those three hospitals which have a total of 67 ICU beds combined.

Baptist Health Chief Nurse Executive Karen Higdon warns that decreased hospitalizations could prompt complacent behavior. She worries people may begin to ignore recommendations like face masks and social distancing.

“I think there’s some complacency going on. People are getting tired of this,” she said.

Higdon said Baptist is prepared with a surge plan if hospitalizations increase.

“We have developed a solid phased surge plan with triggers to identify actions to take at each specific phase and it addresses things like patient placement, staffing actions, it brings our supply chain in,” she said. “Just a very coordinated, multidisciplinary, collaborative effort and we feel very good about our ability to deal with any surge that comes in.”

Norton Healthcare and UofL Health also expressed confidence in their ability to handle a potential surge. In a statement, UofL stated its facilities “remain prepared” to take care of any patients.

Dr. Sarah Moyer with the Louisville Metro Department of Public health indicated hospital “surge plans” could soon be necessary. According to Moyer, Kentucky’s recent increase in cases is the first indicator that hospitalizations could increase.

“Then usually, we’ll see an increase in hospitalizations two to three weeks from now, then an increase in ICU beds and deaths three weeks after that,” she said.

Moyer explained that younger people are increasingly testing positive for COVID-19 but all age groups are still at risk.

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