Bayhealth defends its ICU capacity

Hospitals across the state and the nation are strained when it comes to handling COVID-19 patients who need intensive care.

That’s true in Delaware, too.

But in a New York Times article, the paper shares data from the Department of Health and Human Services that paints Bayhealth Medical Center in a particularly tough spot.

According to the Times’ findings, which is based off data for the week ending Dec. 31, both main Bayhealth campuses were in the red back last month when it came to intensive care unit capacity. At the time, 77% of the nation’s ICU capacity was in use.

According to Charlie Smart, a data journalist with the Times who worked on the story, the article is updated regularly.

Although the average ICU occupancy rate for all of Delaware’s hospitals was 79% then, Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus’ ICU in Dover was reportedly 96% full, while Sussex Campus’ ICU in Milford was 97% full.

Per the article, on a seven-day average, there were 97 COVID-19 patients and just one available bed in Dover and 23 COVID-19 patients and 0.3 available beds in Milford.

But a representative from Bayhealth said they have the situation under control now.

“The interactive map from The New York Times shows a snapshot in time of our patient census based on normal operations,” said Michael Metzing, Bayhealth’s vice president of corporate support services.

“We are seeing a higher volume of patients, but we are managing those patients in appropriate patient areas at both hospitals,” he said. “At Bayhealth, we have a surge plan that outlines how to increase ICU beds and staffing if needed to provide that level of care for our patients.

“These are extraordinary times, and we stand ready to care for our community.”

He said patients in need of care not related to COVID-19 shouldn’t hesitate to seek treatment at Bayhealth facilities.

“At Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus, we’ve continued to adapt to the increased number of patients that have come our way, which includes both COVID and non-COVID patients,” Mr. Metzing said.

DHSS releases the data the Times was working with weekly. Many hospitals nationwide send their metrics to that organization.

Per the most recent release, on Jan. 3, the Kent Campus has 300 total beds and the Sussex Campus has 242. Of those, in Kent, there were 45 ICU beds counted and 10 in Sussex. In Dover, Bayhealth reported having 34 of its ICU beds used on average over the course of a seven-day period, or roughly 77%, while in Milford, the system reported 9.7 of its 10 ICU beds were in use.

Although the rate of new coronavirus hospitalizations statewide has dropped in the new year — it was as low as 23 per day Thursday — back in December, the state experienced three days when more than 80 new COVID-19 patients were admitted to the hospital.

The state’s total number of hospitalizations has still not come down from levels established in December. Total hospitalizations rose through November and December, until they peaked at 454 on Dec. 22. Then, they came down again before spiking back to 458 on Jan. 5.

On Friday, DPH reported 451 people were hospitalized statewide. Fifty-nine, or roughly 12%, were in critical condition.

In Kent County, the situation has gotten particularly dire recently. On Tuesday, the county recorded a record-high level of 111 hospitalizations. Hospitalization rates in the county have been ticking up from a low daily average of 2.8 in the first week of November to a high of 49.5 the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

According to The New York Times article and Bayhealth, those 45 ICU beds at Bayhealth’s Kent Campus are the only ICU beds available for the entire county. The closest hospital with an ICU facility is the Sussex Campus, which only has 10 ICU beds. Otherwise, the closest ICU facilities are in Wilmington and Elkton, Maryland.

In Sussex County, there are two other hospitals with ICU units — TidalHealth Nanticoke in Seaford, which has 10 ICU beds, and Beebe Healthcare in Lewes, which has nine ICU beds, according to the DHSS data.
In the Times article, it was reported that Beebe had used 69% of its ICU capacity and Nanticoke had used 71%. In the most recent DHSS data, those figures remained unchanged for both facilities.

In Sussex County, there are 39 ICU beds spread over three different locations. Per data from the U.S. Census Bureau, this means there are roughly 6,000 county residents for every ICU bed. In Kent County, there are 45 ICU beds concentrated in a single spot, which, according to census data, comes out to roughly 4,000 county residents per ICU bed.

Mr. Metzing said locals shouldn’t be worried about the ICU capacity at either of Bayhealth’s main facilities.

“At Bayhealth, plans were developed to maximize our existing built environment to support the needs of our patients to the greatest extent,” he said.

“Surge-planning involves physical locations but also human resources, equipment and supplies,” Mr. Metzing said. “We continue to stand ready to meet this challenge and are grateful for the support we’ve been given by the communities we serve.”

He said there are many ways Bayhealth and other hospital systems can change the way they use their facilities to expand their ICU capacities.

“For instance, the (post-anesthesia care unit) or (same-day surgery) areas that don’t typically house patients for an extended period can be repurposed in emergency situations to support different needs and levels of care,” Mr. Metzing said.

Although he said the risk of the Bayhealth system running out of ICU space is low, it’s still important for members of the communities they serve to follow COVID-19 guidances closely.

“We want to emphasize the continued need for our community to take precautions, such as wearing a mask, vigilant hand hygiene and maintaining physical distance,” Mr. Metzing said. “These steps are the best defense in helping lower the number of cases and protecting everyone who lives here.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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