Montgomery hospitals can handle ICU bed shortages, state health officer says

Updated: May. 21, 2020 at 6:05 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris spoke Thursday afternoon about the state of hospitals in Montgomery, which Mayor Steven Reed says are at a “critical point.”

Harris said he is aware that many conventional Intensive Care Unit beds at Montgomery hospitals are filled; however, he said he spoke with Dr. Donald Williamson with the Alabama Hospital Association and understands hospitals have available spaces that can be used as ICUs.

Harris also said this is nothing new.

“I would say hospitals frequently, from time to time, have issues like this, and they generally do work those issues out between themselves,” Harris said.

He also said transfers of patients from Montgomery hospitals to Birmingham hospitals are not unusual, and he suspects a lot of people in Montgomery hospitals are from other parts of the state.

“I absolutely agree with the mayor that they have reached capacity there, but I also believe they have the ability within their four walls to handle that and handle more if necessary,” Harris said.

Baptist Health seemed to echo Harris’ statements about the situation, saying in a press release that while capacity within ICUs has been reached throughout this pandemic, this is not uncommon within typical hospital day-to-day operations.

“The availability of these beds is ever-evolving and the number of beds in use changes by the hour,” the release said. “This is the case in a non-COVID environment and remains consistent during the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

Baptist said when a patient requires highly specialized treatments or procedures not available locally, many of them are transferred to UAB Hospital in Birmingham. Likewise, smaller community hospitals in central Alabama often transfer patients Baptist Medical Center South, the tertiary care referral center.

Baptist said at this time, no patients have been transferred to Birmingham for COVID-related care.

Mia Mothershed with Jackson Hospital spoke about their situation, saying currently no ICU beds are available. The hospital has a 24 bed ICU, along with a six bed Cardiovascular ICU.

Mothershed also said Jackson Hospital has not transferred any patients to Birmingham.

WSFA 12 News spoke with Reed, who reiterated the city has a problem.

“I think anytime that you get to this point where you’re within a few beds of running out then there’s a problem,” he said. “I certainly think there’s still a dire situation that we have in this region, and I still think there’s a need for us to take every precautionary measure that we can take. I think it’s very important that we not relax, we not let down our guard, and think this is over.”

Reed said he believes the state has reopened too early because Alabama has not seen the downward trend in cases necessary.

“I think that we needed to see more consistency and a reduction of cases and we did not see that, and I think that given the poverty that we have in this state, given the lack of access to quality healthcare we have in this state, it puts us in an even more precarious situation than maybe some other communities,” he said.

Reed said the city continues to follow the latest data in the pandemic in order to make decisions in the best interest of residents. Reed also addressed Baptist Health and Jackson Hospital’s statements that COVID-19 patients have not been transferred to Birmingham, despite his statement Wednesday saying they have been.

“I was told yesterday that they are being diverted to Birmingham because of the lack of ICU beds,” he said. “Now that may have changed today, and that’s great if it has.”

Thursday afternoon, Gov. Kay Ivey released another amended safer at home order, which greenlights the reopening of entertainment venues, child care facilities, athletic activities, and educational institutions. It goes into effect Friday at 5 p.m.

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