‘This is a real disease’: Hospital giving behind-the-scenes look at intensive care in the COVID-19 era
Utah reports another 1,363 new cases Wednesday, 6 deaths
SALT LAKE CITY — Perhaps no one in Utah is more tired of fighting the spread of COVID-19 than caregivers in hospitals throughout the state.
They haven’t had a break in treating potentially very sick patients since mid-March.
“Health care resources across the state are under strain,” said Dr. Mark Ott, medical director at Intermountain Medical Center. He said nurses and doctors are working extra shifts and longer shifts to care for the ever-increasing number of patients needing intensive care because of a rapidly spreading novel coronavirus.
“We will do whatever it takes to care for patients. We can make room for anyone needing care, but what we don’t have is ICU nurses, acute care nurses and physicians waiting on the shelf in our community,” Ott said.
“There is a limit to the human talent that we have, and if we exceed that, we will move from contingency into crisis, and we should never move into crisis. This is completely preventable.”
The Utah Department of Health on Wednesday reported another 1,363 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total known number of infections to 98,006.
More than 993,995 people have been tested, including an increase of 7,571 since Tuesday’s case report. The rolling seven-day average number of positive tests is 1,283 per day, with 15.1% of people tested receiving a positive result.
There are now 314 people hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout Utah — numbers that health officials have said are unsustainable.
“If you talk to critical care directors, they’re down hundreds of nurses and techs ... and they’ve been doing this 12 hours a day for seven months,” said Greg Bell, president and CEO of the Utah Hospital Association. He said caregivers have their own families to care for, too, which makes their jobs even harder.
Bell said the state has enough beds, and can find more, if needed, but there’s an ongoing shortage of personnel to man those beds.
“If we continue to have the rate of admissions, then we’ll run out of space,” he said.
So, now, health care workers are pleading with the public to wear masks, wash hands and stay socially distanced as much as possible.
Intermountain Healthcare, one of Utah’s largest health care networks, is releasing a three-minute behind-the-scenes video of what’s happening in its intensive care units. Hospital officials are hoping that seeing the seriousness of it will encourage more people to take this pandemic more seriously.
“It’s very important for the community to know how real this is, how it can affect all of us,” said Dani Beebe, an intensive care nurse with Intermountain. She said every day is a struggle, wondering which patients will live and who will die.
“It’s hard to describe a typical day,” she said, adding that ICU patients are “very, very sick.”
“Some are stable one minute and unstable the next,” Beebe said, fighting back tears. She said the demands of the job have increased, as well, because of the risk of being infected. But they’re also the only contact patients have with the public.
Ott said the care given for COVID-19 patients is different than care for any other patient because it is done in isolation.
“There is too large a segment (in the community) that doesn’t think this is a real disease,” he said. “This is a real disease. There are thousands of people who are sick and over 500 people in Utah who have died.”
The health department reported another six deaths on Wednesday.
Those deaths include a woman between the ages of 65 and 84 from Utah County, who was a resident of a long-term care facility when she died; a Washington County woman between the ages of 65 and 84 who was also a long-term care facility resident; plus two Salt Lake County men between 65 and 84, one Salt Lake County man between ages 35 and 44, and a Weber County man between the ages of 65 and 84, all of whom were hospitalized with COVID-19 when they died.
Intermountain Medical Center in Murray has five adult ICUs, said Dr. Lindsay Leither, medical director of respiratory intensive care at the hospital, and those beds are full or nearly full every day, with patients being transferred as soon as possible to make room for new patients.
“It’s rare that an ICU bed stays open for very long,” she said.
The health care system, which has 24 hospitals in and around Utah, has already begun transferring patients with fewer needs to noncritical care rooms at the nearby Orthopedic Specialty Hospital.
“It’s like a war, with members of the community sitting well behind the lines,” Ott said. “For many people, they can’t hear the bombs going off, and it may seem like there aren’t bombs going off. But for the people on the front lines, it’s real. They’re seeing people die.
“We don’t have to catch infections that are preventable,” he said. “And this is entirely preventable.”
Intermountain slated its message, that the system is calling a much-needed public service announcement, to run on all four major Utah news affiliate stations during Wednesday’s nightly news programs at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. It will also be posted online and on YouTube.
Contributing: Amy Donaldson