Alabama COVID-19 hospitalizations top 3,000, put other care at risk

Alabama COVID-19 hospitalizations top 3,000, put other care at risk
Alabama hospitals are now treating more than 3,000 COVID-19 patients for the first time. The ballooning number of patients is taxing hospital resources and putting at risk the treatment of other urgent, non-COVID illnesses or injuries. (Source: WBRC)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The number of people requiring hospitalization for COVID-19 in Alabama has ballooned to a new high, crossing the 3,000 mark for the first time ever.

It’s also putting at risk those needing treatment for other illnesses or injuries.

As of Monday afternoon, the Alabama Department of Public Health reports medical facilities statewide are now treating 3,064 inpatients as a result of the pandemic. The seven-day average now stands at 2,834 hospitalizations per day.

That’s up considerably over the past month when December accounted for a full 30 percent off all COVID cases, 25 percent of deaths, and a hospitalization rate that soared by more than 1,100 patients.

“We are being overwhelmed right now,” State Health Officer Scott Harris said to the Associated Press on Friday. “I believe, unfortunately, we are going to see even worse numbers than we have now, and the ones we have now are pretty bad.”

The situation is greatly concerning, not just for those with COVID but for anyone seeking treatment of an urgent, non-COVID-related nature.

Danne Howard with the Alabama Hospital Association said just before the new year that COVID-19 has taken an unthinkable toll on an exhausted health care system already facing staffing shortages. She said that when hospitals were at a then-record 2,900 inpatients.

As those resources are stretched thinner, treatment delays are a stark reality for those with non-COVID-related emergency issues. That means if you have an emergency outside of COVID, it could impact your care.

Hospitals across Alabama are moving more staff members to treatment of the growing number of COVID patients. Maintaining enough staff to treat both those with and without COVID is a chief concern.

Howard said hospitals are rising to the challenge, but she added facilities still need to be able to respond to non-COVID medical situations like strokes, heart attacks, and other emergencies, and she explained that is getting harder to do.

Unfortunately, the higher the number of positive cases means more people going to the hospital and eventually more deaths, WBRC reports. UAB and other hospitals have put off some elective procedures and if the number of inpatients continues to grow, hospitals may have to seek more cuts to procedures that aren’t just cosmetic.

“So an example would be getting a central IV for access for chemotherapy for cancer patients. That is considered elective because it’s not an emergency,” said UAB’s Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo. “But do you want to have that put off for a week after getting a cancer diagnosis? No.”

Montgomery’s hospitals are treating record numbers of inpatients Monday. Jackson Hospital is treating 86 patients while Baptist Health’s three area hospitals are treating 177.

Meanwhile, UAB is treating 221 inpatients, just off its record of 226.

Hospitals have treated a total of 34,373 patients since the pandemic started in Alabama in mid-March.

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