Hospital ICUs are filling up. It’s even worse than it sounds.

Adding trained staff is much more difficult than making a physical ICU bed, especially deep into a pandemic. 

By Katherine Harmon Courage  Dec 24, 2020, 11:30am EST

As of mid-December, hospitals on average had just 22 percent of their intensive care unit (ICU) beds available across the country, and many were completely full. As the Covid-19 surge continues to intensify, lack of ICU beds can have dire consequences, including not being able to properly care for the sickest patients, potentially rationing lifesaving care.

But even these bed capacity numbers don’t tell the whole story. 

Adding extra critical-care beds in other departments or buildings takes precious time, resources, and space. But adding trained staff is much more difficult, especially deep into a pandemic. 

When trained staff are in short supply, it’s even harder for hospitals to best meet the needs of critical-care patients. These patients include people very sick with Covid-19, but also many who need to be in the ICU for other reasons, such as those who have had a heart attack or stroke, are recovering from major surgery, or are sick with the flu, among others.


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