Triangle could run out of available hospital beds within 6 weeks, report says


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise, so does the need for hospital availability amid the state breaking another record high in hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic.

According to a report from researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, if North Carolina continues on its current trend of a need for COVID-19 patients to spend time in the hospital, the Triangle has about six weeks until available hospital beds run out.

Researchers calculated the hospital “runway” at statewide and regional levels. The term “runway” is defined as amount of time measured in weeks until hospitals may reach or exceed their acute or intensive care unit (ICU) capacity.

Source: Available Hospital Capacity and “Runway” in North Carolina report

As of December 5, North Carolina hospitals had enough beds and staff to treat patients who need inpatient services, researchers say. Credit is given to early action by state leaders and extensive planning.

In a statement, UNC Health told CBS 17, “cautiously optimistic about our capacity and staffing as we continue to manage through the pandemic. Since earlier this year, all of our hospitals have developed contingency plans for adding extra space if our volumes increase.”

“We are increasingly worried about our staffing levels, as more co-workers contract COVID in the community or are required to go out on isolation because they’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID.”

UNC Health

However, with North Carolina’s daily case count continuing to rise and break records, researchers say it has risen important questions about the adequacy of hospitals to handle the growing need for beds.

Given the fact that hospitalization growth rates change over time, so could the outlook for the availability of beds, researchers note.

Source: Available Hospital Capacity and “Runway” in North Carolina report

Researchers reported that as of Dec. 5, there were 20,784 acute hospital beds reported to be staffed statewide. Of these, 14,089 were occupied by non-COVID-19 patients, 2,198 were occupied by COVID-19 patients, and 4,497 beds were reported to be available for new patient admissions.

Should present conditions continue, North Carolina currently has about a six-week statewide runway of available acute hospital beds.

Acute hospital beds are defined as beds that accommodate individuals for surgery, relieving illness or injury, managing labor, beds for psychiatric and non-psychiatric curative care, among other uses.

ICU beds are reportedly in shorter supply that acute beds with researchers predicting North Carolina reaching capacity in just under five weeks.

Researchers say a solution the best way to ensure adequate healthcare capacity for COVID-19 and other patients is to “reduce the number of people requiring hospitalization for conditions related to COVID-19 and, of course, to reduce the number of people who become infected by the virus.”

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