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Alabama’s hospital crisis intensifies; 29 now waiting for ICU beds

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 5:17 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 18, 2021 at 6:35 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The crisis within Alabama’s hospitals is intensifying as healthcare workers treat an ever-growing number of COVID-19 patients without having intensive care unit beds to put them in.

Alabama ran out of designated ICU beds on Tuesday, dipping into negative status as 11 people waited for an open spot. On Wednesday, that number grew to 29.

Montgomery area hospitals are again at negative 8 ICU bed status, according to the Alabama Hospital Association.

AlaHA Deputy Director Danne Howard said the southeastern region of the state is seeing the highest ICU bed deficit. That area includes hospitals in Troy and Dothan, which Howard said has an ICU capacity of 118 beds but 159 ICU patients. That’s a deficit of 41 beds.

The deficit doesn’t mean patients aren’t being treated.

“Individuals who end up in the hospital will be taken care of, let me be very clear on that,” AlaHA President Dr. Don Williamson said Tuesday, but he added that people may be managed for extended periods of time in the emergency room, on hallway gurneys, or even transferred to other facilities for care.

[READ MORE: With no beds, hospitals ship patients to far-off cities]

The state isn’t having supply issues with personal protective equipment (PPE) or ventilators at this point, according to State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris. The major concern is limited staffing, something Harris said FEMA may be able to help alleviate to a degree. Further details were limited, but discussions with the federal government are ongoing.

For now, the pressure on hospitals continues to grow.

Alabama has 4,465 new COVID-19 cases confirmed Wednesday. Williamson said those thousands of cases mean the state’s surge hasn’t peaked, and more hospitalizations can be expected. As hospitals become overwhelmed, it’s not just COVID patients at risk.

“In most parts of the state, the average person who has a heart attack today or is involved in a serious automobile accident, it’s going to be difficult,” said Harris. “The hospitals are going to have to be real creative in finding a place to be able to care for that patient.”

Alabama is currently treating 2,731 COVID-19 inpatients, which remains below the record set in mid-January when there were more than 3,000. But the ICU situation never reached current levels back then, meaning the state is in “uncharted territory,” according to Williamson.

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