Local hospitals working together to prevent COVID crush
Collaboration between local health officials might be the only thing keeping some of Oklahoma City’s hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
State health officials confirmed Thursday that Oklahoma City’s recent COVID-19 infection numbers moved the metro into Tier 3 of the state's hospital surge plan.
The region moved into Tier 3 because the percentage of COVID-19 patients in metro hospitals exceeded 20% of the admitted patients for three days, which is the trigger required to the elevated surge plan.
But despite the metro area reporting that more than 20% of hospitalized patients were COVID-19 patients on Monday, none of the local hospitals have activated their individual plans for Tier 3 protocols, which could include stopping surgeries and elective procedures.
Kerri Bayer, chief nurse executive for Integris Baptist Medical Center, said right now the hospital’s intensive care unit beds are full, but they’ve been able to move patients to other hospitals within the metro area to make sure all are still getting the care they need.
“We are evaluating by the minute and by the hour right now,” Bayer said. “This week has been extraordinarily high in COVID numbers and we don’t think that’s going to slow down any time soon.”
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 1,878 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the second most reported in a single day. The number bumps the seven-day average of new cases to a record high of 1,465. There are currently more than 17,000 active cases of COVID-19 statewide, also an all-time high.
Bayer said in addition to COVID-19 patients in need of intensive care, there are still the regular emergency visits for people who have been in car accidents, suffered a heart attack or contracted other illnesses.
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Earlier this week, a patient who came in suffering from a heart attack was discovered to be positive with COVID-19.
“These patients need our support and our care, but we are at a high capacity,” she said “We are utilizing the other hospitals in the metro and trying to make space the best we can.”
Dr. Cameron Mantor, acting chief medical officer for OU Health hospitals, said another reason why the amount of remaining ICU beds in the Oklahoma City is so low is because rural hospitals often send their patients to the metro area.
“There is a great collaboration amongst all the hospitals in the region between both rural and local,” he said. “Hospitalizations are definitely increasing, there’s no question about that and those patients that are being taken care of in their local community hospital are looking for higher levels of care and that impacts us greatly.”
Even with the increase in patients and limited ICU beds, OU Medicine also said it had not activated its Tier 3 surge protocols yet.
Mantor said that’s mostly because of the collaboration among all the metro hospitals to make sure no single facility is overwhelmed. But Mantor warns that collaboration can only last so long.
“We are all working together to all figure out how we can take care of the patients,” he said. “We are doing the best we can and we are using all the knowledge we have ... but at some point we will reach our limit.”
The state’s surge plan also gives Gov. Kevin Stitt options to improve hospital capacity through an executive order that would limit elective procedures.
Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannema said the governor does not plan to sign an executive order limiting elective procedures. Nor does he plan to request the Oklahoma Legislature implement the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act, which would give Stitt additional powers for 30 days.
Hannema said the governor's office is in close communication with the state's hospitals to help with any needs they might have.
"We have met with the hospitals and are working to assist them with staffing, patient transfers and other needs they are seeing," he said.
Mantor said the most important steps Oklahomans can take are the same ones that have been preached since the pandemic began: Wash your hands frequently, stay socially distant, and wear a mask.
“Hospitals can’t fix the pandemic,” Mantor said. “They are not going to make the pandemic go away. It’s of paramount importance that the community is part of the solution.”