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Hospitals sending COVID patients to other states as variant takes toll in US

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-08-20 10:59

A patient is helped to walk by medical professionals as she is being treated for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, US, Aug 10, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Overcapacity hospitals in several states that have run out of beds are sending their COVID-19 patients hundreds of miles away to other states for treatment.

The surge in the Delta variant of the coronavirus, combined with low vaccination rates, has pushed hospitals close to a breaking point in many states, and many patients are in a scramble to find beds.

CoxHealth has a hospital in Springfield, Missouri, that is treating patients from as far away as Alabama.

"Just imagine not having the support of your family near, to have that kind of anxiety if you have someone grow acutely ill," Steve Edwards, CEO of CoxHealth, told The Associated Press.

Hospitalizations are on the rise in the US, with more than 85,000 COVID-19 patients being treated across the country, according to the latest data from The New York Times.

Unlike the winter surge, hospitals this summer were already strained because emergency rooms are back to pre-pandemic levels and patients are catching up on care they postponed, according to the AP.

In Western Pennsylvania, a 14-hospital system headquartered in downtown Pittsburgh has been fielding a surge in transfer requests from physicians in states where coronavirus cases and deaths are proliferating, including Oklahoma, Florida and North Carolina.

In Arizona, a special COVID-19 hot line is receiving frantic phone calls from hospitals in Arkansas, California, Texas and Wyoming that need to find beds for patients, the AP reported. Many times, there's no place to send people.

"We just can't get them out," Dennis Shelby, CEO of the Wilson Medical Center in Neodesha, Kansas, told AP.

In Kansas, small rural hospitals are waiting an average of nearly 10 hours to be flown somewhere else, according to Motient, a company contracting with the state to help manage transfers.

Officials at a 15-bed hospital in Kansas called 40 other medical centers in several states to find a bed for a COVID-19 patient. They found one about 220 miles away.

The delayed transfers can have dire consequences for patients, especially those who urgently need to see specialists or have urgent health concerns such as a heart attack or stroke.

"Imagine being with your grandma in the ER who is having a heart attack in western Kansas and you are saying, 'Why can't we find a bed for her?'" Richard Watson, the founder of Motient, told the AP.

Even if hospitals have beds, they may lack the staff to care for more patients, after pandemic-fatigued doctors and nurses walked away.

"We just opened 144 new patient beds in our university hospital. But parts of the floors are not open yet because we don't have the staffing," Dr Dale Bratzler, the University of Oklahoma's chief COVID officer, told Business Insider.

Austin Public Health also has more beds than it could use, the Austin American-Statesman reported. "In theory, there are more ICU beds available, but there is not enough staff to provide service for all those ICU beds," said spokesperson Matt Lara.

All states are reporting some level of staffing shortage, Dr Jorge Caballero, an anesthesiologist and data engineer, told Marketplace.

More than 1 million Americans received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, a benchmark the nation hasn't met in nearly seven weeks amid a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ai Heping in New York contributed to this story.

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