Hard-hit U.S. states 'surge' hospital intensive care beds as ICU wards fill up

(Reuters) - Some Texas hospitals are running out of intensive care unit (ICU) beds for COVID-19 patients, turning to surge capacity that they expect will let them handle rising virus cases for another couple of weeks.

FILE PHOTO: Nurse Leah Silver cares for a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient in the COVID ICU at the University of Washington Medical Center - Montlake during the COVID-19 outbreak in Seattle, Washington, U.S. April 24, 2020. REUTERS/David Ryder

Spikes of cases in several U.S. states including Texas, Arizona and Florida are raising concerns that the United States is relaxing lockdowns too fast and that hospitals may run out of space. Houston has considered turning part of a local stadium complex into excess hospital capacity - but local officials say that’s not currently part of their immediate plans.

The Texas Medical Center system in Houston was expected to fill its last ICU bed on Thursday, but it has created a COVID “war room” and can handle a 66% surge in additional ICU patients with strategies including reassigning staff, delaying elective procedures, putting beds closer together and using regular beds for emergency use.

They calculate they will run out of space on July 6 if the current increase in Texas severe cases continues.

The ICU at nearby Houston Methodist was also nearly full as of Thursday. They are preparing to surge, and said that their experience with coronavirus patients has helped them save beds in the hospital’s ward for the most severe cases.

“We’re not intubating as many patients, we have lots of drugs like convalescent plasma and remdesivir, and our process of proning patients, (putting them on their stomachs) is allowing us to manage a lot more patients on acute care floors then we were able to do in March and April,” said hospital ICU chief Dr. Faisal Masud.

In Arizona, adult intensive care beds were 88% occupied statewide as cases continued to surge.

Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey said on Thursday that his state has the hospital capacity to handle the influx of patients despite increasing numbers of occupied hospital beds, intensive care beds and ventilators being used.

“Our hospitals are likely to hit surge capacity very soon,” Ducey said, adding that the state could handle the influx. “Where we are right now and what we expect is manageable.” he said.

Arizona has the ability to reopen a shuttered hospital and open field hospitals to help handle surges in ill patients.

In Florida, COVID hospital patients at AdventHealth Systems also are younger than earlier in the pandemic and less likely to need critical care, said Dr. Vincent Hsu, AdventHealth’s infection control officer for Florida.

“We’re not seeing nearly as sick patients as we had in the first part (of the outbreak),” Hsu said at a news conference. “The patients that are coming in tend to be a little bit younger. And as a result, they don’t tend to utilize the significant ICU resources or the ventilator resources.”

Ed Jimenez, chief Executive of University of Florida Health’s Shands hospital in Gainesville, said that he could cut the number of patients in his hospital by a third by stopping elective procedures.

“So we have levers we can pull that slow down the inflow of patients,” Jimenez said.

Additional reporting by David Scwartz in Arizona and Erwin Seba in Houston; Writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis