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‘Never-Ending Nightmare’: The Hospitals With the Highest ICU Occupancies

Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta began delaying elective surgeries and procedures earlier this month because there were so many Covid-19 patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) that there was just no room for anyone who isn’t seriously ill.

Grady’s ICU is just one of many across the country that have been consistently packed. While Covid cases and deaths have ebbed and flowed nationally, new Health and Human Services (HHS) data show that 20 hospitals nationwide had full ICUs for more than 52 weeks since the onset of the pandemic. And health experts say these repeated Covid surges create monumental challenges to patients and health care providers.

While the state of Georgia — and the United States as a whole — have been dealing with another surge of Covid cases since August, the data from HHS shows that Grady’s ICU has been full for much longer. Every week, for the past 12 months, it has been 100 percent full. Before the pandemic, it is estimated it was full 70 percent of the time. A 2014 study on intensive care occupancy and ventilator use found that from 2005 to 2007, ICU occupancy rates ranged from 57 percent to 81 percent, much lower than Grady’s current 100 percent. “We have had to postpone some nonessential surgical procedures because we did not have an inpatient bed for them after they had their surgery,” said Dr. Robert Jansen, the Grady Health System chief medical officer.

HHS data suggests that hospitals in the South and the Southwest have experienced this extended surge more than anywhere else in the country. Of the 100 intensive care units that have spent the most weeks at or over patient capacity from July 2020 to Sept. 23, Texas is home to 17, the highest in the nation. California has 13 of the 100 most burdened hospitals, and Florida has 10. Alabama has seven, Kentucky and Georgia have six. No other state has more than five hospitals.

There are more than 5,000 hospitals reporting weekly to HHS, with nearly 1 in 4 reporting that more than 90 percent of their ICU beds were full for the week ending Sept. 23. In early June, before the delta variant fueled a case surge, only 1 in 10 hospitals were at that level. Last week’s data shows that number decreasing slightly for the first time since July. In Florida, about 86 percent of the ICUs are full. But data suggests that the state’s surge has ebbed, with only 39 hospitals reporting 100 percent occupancy, down from 50 percent the week prior, and down from a peak of 72 percent the week ending Aug. 26. In Texas, data shows that ICUs have stayed more than 90 percent full since the middle of August, and have stayed around 80 percent since July 2020, with some of its hospitals reporting 100 percent ICU occupancy for months.

 

Health and Human Services hospital-level data only goes back to July 2020, and excludes hospitals reporting fewer than four hospitalizations in a given week. As of the week of Sept. 23, the country’s ICU capacity was about 79 percent full on average, and August saw more ICUs maxed out than in January, when the U.S. was counting more than 3,000 Covid deaths a day and before widespread Covid vaccinations.

This summer’s Covid surge has only made things more difficult for packed hospitals. In Alabama, ICUs were maxed out in the latest surge, and other states have had to resort to rationing care in certain hospitals.



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