Oklahoma City hospitals turn to COVID-19 overflow tents
St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City on Monday added overflow tents to increase its patient capacity at a time when the facility has more COVID-19 patients than open beds.
One Oklahoma hospital official expects more facilities throughout the state could add overflow tents as the number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 continues to rise.
On Monday, Oklahoma reported a record 1,718 patients hospitalized due to COVID-19, and health officials worry that number will grow as a result of Thanksgiving gatherings and travel contributing to the spread of the virus.
Dr. Chad Borin, medical director of St. Anthony Hospital emergency services, said the decision to add overflow tents was made because of current capacity issues that he anticipates will worsen in the coming weeks.
“We have four COVID units in our hospital,” he said. “They’re completely full. Each day when I come to work in the morning, we typically have a dozen or more patients holding in our emergency department, waiting for a bed in the hospital.”
St. Anthony’s COVID units hold about 70 patients. On Tuesday morning, there were 88 COVID-positive patients in the hospital, Borin said.
The two tents erected outside the emergency room can hold about 10-12 patients. If necessary, they will be used for triage purposes to quickly evaluate visitors to determine if they need to be admitted.
Borin said he expects a large surge in COVID-19 patients will come toward the end of the month.
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“We erected the tents to be proactive,” he said. “My hope and prayer is that we never have to step foot inside."
In the spring, Mercy erected a temporary structure outside its emergency department. The structure that can hold up to nine patients opens when the emergency room is at capacity, and those additional beds have been used several times in past week, said Mercy spokeswoman Meredith Huggins.
Since Oct. 1, Mercy has added 43 medical surgical beds and 21 intensive care unit beds to respond to the increase in COVID-19 patients.
“Leaders at Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City work daily to identify ways to create additional capacity inside the hospital," Huggins said. "We have added beds by converting other areas of the hospital into patient care units and opened a previously closed unit. However, the challenge across the country and here is staffing those beds."
More than half of the state’s hospital regions, including Oklahoma County, are in Tier 3 of the state’s four-tiered surge plan — meaning hospitals are seeing an influx of COVID-19 patients and capacity is growing limited.
Oklahoma Hospital Association President Patti Davis said more hospitals across the state could erect overflow tents, similar to what they put up in the spring when the state was preparing for a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations that never came because of widespread measures to flatten the curve. Like Mercy, OU Medical Center has retained its overflow tents since the spring.
“Do I expect that you’re going to be seeing some more tents? It’s highly possible,” she said.
Intensive care unit beds are in high demand, and hospitals across the state are already implementing internal surge plans to scale back on some surgeries and procedures, Davis said. Hospitals are also shifting health care workers around to focus on COVID care.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health has activated the Regional Medical Response System to help direct the flow of patients between hospitals and find open beds.
Davis said the hospitals are also working with the state to free up hospital beds by finding other care settings for patients for when they no longer need acute hospital care.
“Clearly, we’re going to be pulling every trigger we can to help with patient logistics while we work through this pandemic,” she said.
Reporter Carmen Forman covers state government, politics and the COVID-19 pandemic for The Oklahoman. Send story tips to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CarmenMForman. Please support her work, and the work of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a print or digital subscription today at oklahoman.com/subscribe.