Virus Hotspots Ramp Up Hospital Capacity to Meet Patient Surge

March 27, 2020 Updated: March 27, 2020

Hospitals around the country are getting ready to handle more patients as the COVID-19 outbreak surges. While more beds are being added and architectural layouts are being changed to add more facilities to the existing ones, many temporary hospital beds are being quickly created elsewhere.

Local governments and hospital administrations are particularly rushing to find beds for a coming flood of patients, opening older closed hospitals, turning single rooms into doubles and re-purposing other medical buildings.

On Thursday as the total number of CCP virus cases reached 75,665 with 1,100 fatalities nationwide, the Pentagon announced the deployment of the hospital ships ‘Mercy’ to Los Angles and ‘Comfort’ to New York.

The New York has emerged as one of the hardest hit states as the number of confirmed cases surged to 37,258, with 385 deaths as of Thursday.

At least 13 patients died from the pandemic at New York’s Elmhurst Hospital over 24 hours, a statement from a spokesman said on Thursday. The WSJ reported that the hospital is using refrigerated trucks to store some of the dead bodies.

“The frontline staff are going above and beyond in this crisis, and we continue surging supplies and personnel to this critical facility to keep pace with the crisis,” the statement said.

“We are literally increasing the effective capacity of the hospital on a daily basis by sending more doctors, nurses, ventilators, and PPE to meet demand.”

The Epoch Times has reached out to the hospital for comment on how it’s coping with the surge of patients and fatalites but didn’t get a response by press time.

On Monday, New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo announced that the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management agency would start converting the Jacob K. Javits Center into a 1,000-bed temporary hospital.

Four temporary field hospitals will also be set up at the West Side Convention Center within a week, including other similar plans of additional care units, according to Cuomo and the Pentagon.

NYU Langone
A sign is seen at the NYU Langone Health Center hospital emergency room entrance on March 23, 2020 in New York City. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

In Seattle, which is the epicenter of the outbreak in Washington State, 189 cases were confirmed as of Wednesday in the Evergreen Health Kirkland facility alone. Since the first case was reported on Feb. 28, 40 have died of the CCP virus.

On Thursday, the number of total confirmed cases in the state stood at 2,588, while the deaths were at 158.

The Seattle county administration last week set-up the Shoreline Temporary Field Hospital with 200 beds on a soccer field for people who are unable to self-isolate in their homes.

In a statement, the King County Department of Community and Human Services said that they need about 3,000 more public health-supervised beds to cope with the pandemic.

“The County is moving to address the growing need for recovery beds in the region. The County is currently in the process of setting up the tents and other infrastructure in preparation,” the county officials said in a statement last week.

Alan Sager, Director of the Health Reform Program at the Boston University School of Public Health, told The Epoch Times by email that setting up temporary beds is one way the hospitals are adopting to cope with the pandemic.

Sager said that hospitals were also increasing capacity by curtailing elective surgery, and discharging patients who can safely be sent home. They are also in the process of securing an increased supply of ventilators, masks, and gowns to serve the current and expected surge in patients.

Epoch Times Photo
A man from a Bellevue Healthcare van wheels in oxygen tanks at an assisted living facility linked to several cases of COVID-19 outbreak in Redmond, Washington, on March 21, 2020. (Reuters/Lindsey Wasson)

The University of Washington Medical Center told The Epoch Times in an email that it is implementing a surge plan that’ll become operational by April.

Each of its hospitals is also developing architectural plans to modify interior spaces in the emergency departments to provide safe care for patients with respiratory diseases, a spokesperson said. “We are confident that our surge plans will enable us to scale up our capacity to treat increasing numbers of patients with COVID-19 symptoms while also preserving our resources to care for patients with other critical injuries or illnesses in our emergency departments.”

In California, another virus hotbed, the total number of confirmed cases stood at 3,829 on Thursday, with 78 fatalities.

In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed announced the opening of a new COVID-19 facility at the Saint Francis Memorial Hospital on Wednesday to deal with the increasing case load.

“The facility will include 40 beds on a dedicated floor at Saint Francis, with an additional eight-bed intensive care unit. The first 10 beds will be available the first week in April,” the administration said in a statement.

The health department at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), said it is working with hospitals across the city to increase inpatient and critical care capacity.

UCSF said it is already “preparing to open 46 inpatient acute care beds and seven ICU beds at its Mount Zion medical campus to help meet the anticipated surge.”

“Other efforts include opening Respiratory Screening Clinics on its campuses at Parnassus, Mount Zion and Mission Bay; opening an accelerated care unit to triage emergency respiratory patients,” it said in a release.

The state is also leasing two shuttered hospital units, secure hotel rooms, and setting up makeshift care units, according to an Orange County Register report on Tuesday.

Chinatown section of San Francisco-Coronavirus
A man wears a face mask onboard a public bus in the Chinatown section of San Francisco, Calif., on Feb. 25, 2020. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Army Steps In

While hospitals around the country scramble to care for the increasing number of COVID-19 patients, the U.S. army is deploying medical soldiers to care for non-COVID-19 patients.

The Pentagon deployed 600 medical soldiers in New York from the 531st Army Hospital from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and the 9th Army Hospital from Fort Hood, Texas, to care for the non-COVID-19 cases, according to an official statement on Thursday.

“They bring enough equipment for 284 beds, but since the facilities are being provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the number of beds will be much greater,” said the DoD, adding that these units will become operational from March 30.

The administration said more than 10,000 National Guard soldiers are supporting pandemic response efforts around the country.

The department is also deploying 300 soldiers from the 627th Army Hospital from Fort Carson, Colorado, to Seattle.

“We’re continuing to train mission essential personnel,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville. “But really, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to balance protecting the force so we can protect the nation.”

Sager said that even during this time of crisis, 30 million Americans remain uninsured and many others can’t afford their deductibles and co-insurance.

“Federal, state, and insurance company action to fully cover each American’s cost of coronavirus testing and treatment is essential to protecting the health of all Americans,” he said, adding that there’s a lot of reflect and learn once the pandemic subsides.

The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.

Update: The article’s headline and lead paragraph have been updated to better reflect the report.

Follow Venus on Twitter: @venusupadhayaya