The Number of Available ICU Beds in Pennsylvania Is Dwindling Fast

State Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (Screenshot)

By Patrick Abdalla

December 3, 2020

State Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine is concerned the number of medical personnel could start shrinking, too.

Nearly 5,000 Pennsylvanians are in hospitals with COVID-19 or another coronavirus-related illness, and more than 1,000 of them are in intensive care units. 

Approximately 86% of all adult ICU and medical/surgical beds across the state are filled, according to state data. Several counties have few or no ICU beds left.

State health officials on Thursday announced a record 11,406 new coronavirus cases.

The numbers confirm state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine’s fears. Earlier in the week, Levine said she was “very concerned” about hospital capacity.

Now, Levine is also concerned about hospitals running out of medical personnel.

“More than the beds, it is the staffing,” she said Thursday.

Hospitals can transition beds from different units to ICU beds, but they can’t create new staff members, she said.

RELATED: PA COVID Deaths in November Matched the Previous 4 Months Combined

Despite the numbers, Pennsylvania’s hospitals aren’t set to cut down on elective procedures.

Levine explained last week that there were three sets of triggers for changing hospital operations: The first is if 33% or more of a region’s hospitals are going to face staffing shortages. The second is based on a surge of coronavirus patients of more than 50% during a 48-hour period. The third is if less than 10% of staffed surgical/medical beds are going to be available.

Currently, the southwestern and south central regions have hit the staffing triggers, but have not hit any other triggers.

“There are many different reasons why there are staffing issues,” Levine said.

Staff could contract the virus or be forced to quarantine because of contact with it. They could also be diverted to other units.

RELATED: A COVID Vaccine Could Be Weeks Away for Some Americans. Here’s What You Need to Know.

Levine said it’s not just hospitals that have to help keep health care systems and hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Levine repeated her mantra that every Pennsylvanian has a role to play in combating the virus. Not only should they be wearing masks and washing their hands, but they have to practice social distancing.

“All of us have to be mindful that we all have a role to play,” she said. “We are certainly not through this yet.”

As of Thursday, at least 386,837 Pennsylvanians have tested positive for the virus. So far, 10,944 have died from COVID-19 or coronavirus-related issues.

However, she did stress that anyone who feels like they need care should reach out for it.

“Hospitals do have the ability to manage their beds, to manage their capacity, and their staffing ratios,” Levine said. “We are calling on them to do that, so that they have the capacity to take care of any COVID-19 patient or non-COVID-19 patient in urgent need of hospitalization.”


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