Despite the hype around the rollout of multiple COVID-19 vaccines, many Oklahoma hospitals are still challenged daily to immediately find a bed for every patient in need of medical care.
Hospitals across the state have expanded capacity throughout the year and have avoided being overrun as a result, according to Dr. George Monks, the President of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
Still, longer wait times for patient admissions and limited transfers between facilities are a new normal for some medical providers.
“The hospitals is stretched,” said Dr. Cameron Mantor, the Chief Medical Officer at OU Health. “We’re stretching our staff. We’re stretching our providers. We have patients waiting in the emergency room waiting to be admitted whether their problem is COVID-related or another illness.”
On Tuesday more than 1,700 Oklahomans were hospitalized with the COVID-19, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
Gov. Kevin Stitt held a news conference Tuesday as the first residents and staff of nursing homes received vaccines as part of the first phase of the state’s distribution plan.
State health officials expect the next phase, which includes teachers and emergency responders, to begin next month. Doses of the vaccine will be made available to the public later in the year, possibly in the spring, according to OSDH.
Meanwhile, Mantor said the expanded capacities, longer wait times and limited patient transfers have become a sort-of new normal.
“When I say we're full, we're full including all of these new beds,” he said.
Hospitals including Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City and SSM St. Anthony also reported operating challenges from the increased patient load.
Officials with SSM St. Anthony issued the following statement:
“Along with other health systems throughout Oklahoma, SSM Health St. Anthony has been vocal about the strain the COVID-19 crisis has put on hospitals, greatly complicating our capacity to care for patients of all levels and needs. At times, limited resources may necessitate limitations on what patient transfers we can accept or may create delays for some new hospital admissions. These conditions can change hour by hour. Transfers are reviewed on a case-by-case basis to see if, when and where we may have capacity, as well as whether we can make arrangements at other facilities, as possible, if we cannot accommodate at that moment. We work closely with the Regional Medical Response System through the Oklahoma Hospital Association which provides resources for coordinating this process throughout the state.
If Oklahomans are in need of care, we continue to emphasize the importance of seeking it – in the case of an emergency, to dial 911 or visit their nearest emergency room. However, until our communities can flatten the COVID-19 curve, hospitals will continue to experience capacity challenges.”
Beds are on constant rotation at Mercy, according to a system spokesperson. They provided the following statement:
“Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City continues to have more patients than ever due to a historically high number of COVID-19 infections. While the number varies by the hour, we are currently caring for 132 COVID-19 patients. Our COVID-19 census has been above 100 every day since Nov. 17. We often have longer wait times than normal in the emergency department and holds on admissions as we work to discharge and move patients to the most appropriate level of care.
Our capacity and bed availability affect our ability to accept transfers for patients with all diagnoses and levels of care. As soon as a bed opens, it is filled. We continue to work closely with all of the other hospitals and health care facilities across the state to accept transfers when we have an available bed.”