Q&A: Cleveland Hospitals Tally Ventilators, Beds In Prep For COVID-19 Spike

[Olena Yakobchuk / shutterstock]
Northeast Ohio hospitals are preparing for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases. [Olena Yakobchuk / shutterstock]
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As more people in the Cleveland area are diagnosed with COVID-19, health officials are concerned there may not be enough hospitals beds and ventilators in Northeast Ohio to support sick patients.

'All Things Considered' Host Glenn Forbes talked with ideastream’s health reporter Marlene Harris-Taylor about the options and resources that can be tapped if our local healthcare system is overwhelmed.

Do health officials have any idea how many people will potentially need care? Who is tracking this?

State and county health officials and hospital leaders are reassessing their disaster preparedness plans. Even with all the planning, it is impossible to predict what will happen. However, all the health officials stress the importance of the restrictions on large gatherings of people, announced recently by Ohio Gov. DeWine. The goal is the stretch out that curve that many people have seen on television. There is one scenario where if we don’t do social distancing, many people could get sick at once. On the other hand, if closing schools and bars, for example, helps to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, then it could prevent the huge surge on the hospitals that everyone is worried about.

Why are the numbers of beds and ventilators important?

Bed count is important because it tells us how many people the hospital can treat at one time. Ventilators are used if people are seriously ill from coronavirus and are having trouble breathing on their own. In severe cases, coronavirus attacks the lungs. Health officials told me people may need the help of a ventilator for several days.

How many ventilators do we have in Northeast Ohio?

Cleveland Clinic, the largest health care system in our area, has the most, with 550 ventilators here in its Northeast Ohio hospitals.

University Hospitals has 429 ventilators and MetroHealth has 60 ventilators.

That adds up to a little over 1,000 ventilators between the three major health care providers in the Cleveland area.

According to the U.S. Census there are 1.24 million people in Cuyahoga County. As of Tuesday, there were 31 confirmed coronavirus cases in Cuyahoga County. The state has 67 confirmed cases and 17 hospitalizations at this time.

Summa Health, in Akron, declined to provide the number of ventilators in its hospitals. St. Vincent Charity Hospital, in Cleveland, did not respond to our request for information.

Ohio Department of Health's Emergency Response Unit Supervisor Benjamin Robison said there are people in each region of the state who will monitor the situation. If a hospital needs more ventilators the state could provide some help, he said.

“The state has resources and those resources would be applied as requested and received. I do want to say, if we don’t take the steps we need to take to drive down the cases of transmissions, it’s possible and even likely that we would have a surge beyond what the state could support,” Robinson said.

Robison is talking about the strategic stockpile of health equipment at the state level. What about the federal government? Can they help if hospitals need more equipment?

Gov. DeWine sent a letter to the Trump administration asking the federal government to release equipment and supplies from the national strategic reserve. According to several national media outlets, President Trump told a group of governors on a conference call on Monday not to rely on the federal government and to seek more supplies from private businesses.

What about hospital beds? Are there enough locally?

Cleveland Clinic has the most, with 3,000 surgical beds. As local hospitals shared data with ideastream, they used different terms, so it’s not an apples to apples comparison.

University Hospitals, for example, reports the system has 1,800 staffed beds and 160 intensive care beds. MetroHealth has 750 overall beds, with 115 intensive care beds.

Nancy Foster, from the American Hospital Association, which represents all the large hospital systems in the Cleveland area, said hospitals are making plans for extra bed space.

 “We are thinking creatively and asking the federal government what other places we might be able to use. There is a limit on what we are able to do within our hospital buildings,” she said.

As a way to increase the number of beds, Foster said hospitals could put them in surgical suites. Gov. DeWine announced on Tuesday that he will issue an order postponing elective surgeries in order to ensure resources to fight the outbreak.

MetroHealth officials said they have space to quickly add 200 more ICU beds if needed.

Hospitals are also having conversations with places like local rehabilitation facilities, according to Foster. Some of them have beds that are not being used, so that potentially could be a place for them to ship some patients.

 What about asking the military for help?

That is a possibility if all these other measures fail. The government could use reserve units to build tents to house patients like they do during war time, said Foster.

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