UAB running short on beds, staff to treat growing number of COVID-19 patients

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Alabama hit another record Wednesday. At the time of publication, more 2,111 patients were being treated for the virus. 150 of those patients are in Montgomery-area hospitals and 149 are admitted to UAB, Alabama’s only level one trauma center. Doctors there paint a grim picture of the current hospital capacity and what’s to come.

“We are now at a place where we no longer have enough beds or physicians, and nurse practitioners and [physician assistants] to take care of all the COVID patients that we’re seeing,” stated Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, UAB’s chief of hospital medicine.

“We are actively in discussions to try to pull faculty from the research labs if we need to, pull faculty from the clinics if we need to…our concern is that we will need those people as early as next week.”

Kennedy stresses providing this level of care to the escalating number of COVID is not sustainable.

“I don’t think any of us has lived during a time where we’ve had to worry that if we got really sick, feeling like you could not breathe, that if you came to a hospital people would not be able to rush you back and take care of you immediately. What we’re saying is that we are reaching that point,” warned Kennedy.

Doctors are learning that many of the patients they’re currently admitting contracted the virus over the holiday.

“The patients that either traveled for Thanksgiving or had big get togethers, those are the folks that we’re starting to see in the hospital now,” Kennedy explained. “As we ask them their history, I’m alarmed at the number of people that went to an amusement park, went to Disney World or flew to visit friends and family somewhere.”

Kennedy admits the patients are coming in sicker and the disease is progressing faster than she remembers earlier in the pandemic.

“I worked this past weekend and I was alarmed at the number of patients in their 20s that we were admitting to the hospital,” Kennedy remarked. “Patients that do not have underlying health problems or only have one underlying health problem like high blood pressure or diabetes.”

That’s why she’s pleading with the public to take the necessary mitigation measures to stop the spread. Specifically she’s asking everyone to stay at home as much as possible and to wear a mask if they must go out, all in an effort to shore up bed space.

“We all need to function as though we have it,” Kennedy said of the virus. “The reason why COVID is so skilled at spreading is that it spreads before you’re symptomatic.”

Kennedy admits that her family did not hold a traditional Thanksgiving gathering nor will they get together for Christmas or New Year’s. Before Thanksgiving, she sent her family six news articles about families who held events where a large number were infected by the virus and in 2 instances, some died as a result.

“I explained to them I recognize that my perspective is skewed,” stated Kennedy. “I am in the middle of it, so I’m seeing all of the sick patients. I’m seeing all of the worst case scenarios, and if you are fortunate enough to not have to deal with COVID face-to-face, it may feel very distant or overblown to you because you haven’t had to deal with it personally.”

UAB is putting out the call to retired nurses to return to the hospital to do any task they’re comfortable executing from bedside nursing to administrative duties.

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