ICU capacity shrinking as COVID hospitalizations rise


NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — As hospitalizations continue to rise across Louisiana, the number of ICU beds available for those patients is dwindling.

On Thursday, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reported more than 1600 COVID patients are in the hospital.

Right now, the state is on track to exceed the number of hospitalizations at the very worst peek of earlier COVID surges.

“It’s really hard to see these waves coming one after another when we know that this one could have been prevented,” said City of New Orleans Medical Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno.

Dr. Avegno said as the more potent Delta variant spreads, more people are getting sicker and ending up in the hospital.

“If all of the beds are full, there is nowhere for them to go. Their care might be delayed and they suffer even though they might have gotten their COVID vaccine and not be there for COVID. It really is a ripple effect on us all.”

Across the state, more than 1300 people are in the ICU and fewer than 300 beds are available.

In Region One, which includes Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes, only 80 ICU beds are available.

Meanwhile, the Lafayette region only has two ICU beds available; the least amount in the state.

Dr. Avegno said, “In many cases, we have physical beds and physical floors, but we do not have anyone to staff them. You cannot have a patient without a nurse, a team and a doctor.”

According to Governor John Bel Edwards, more than 6,000 nursing positions are open across the state. Unlike prior COVID surges, outside help is not coming to Louisiana.

“People don’t realize that when you get sick and you’re in the ICU or a floor bed, it’s not just one nurse that’s responsible for you,” Dr. Avegno said. “It’s an entire team of people that help keep you alive. If you’re down one or two people from that team, people don’t get the care that they should.”

Dr. Avegno said hospitals are filling up with younger patients, especially those who are too young to receive the vaccine.

“This is not just an individual disease, this is a community disease. Think of that nurse, think of that doctor, the respiratory tech, the house keep that works the floor. This impacts everyone and they need more than to be called heroes. They need to see that we do not want to keep putting them at risk.”

Doctor Avegno is worried the toll communities will pay if things do not change soon.

“We can choose to wear masks and get the vaccine or we can choose death.”

WGNO asked the Governor’s Office if the state is looking into re-opening any surge sites like the Convention Center.

A spokesperson said, “As Louisiana works hard to get this dangerous fourth surge of COVID-19 under control, Gov. Edwards and the Dept. of Health are listening to the needs of hospital leaders statewide as their facilities deal with the increase of patients suffering from the virus.”

Governor Edwards’ spokesperson added, ” Many have more COVID patients in their ICUs now than at any other time during this pandemic. Gov. Edwards will make certain that Louisiana is prepared and is having ongoing conversations about the best ways to address the urgent and immediate needs now and potentially in the future. This is exactly why we need more people to get vaccinated. Fortunately, vaccinations are increasing and more than 1.9 million Louisianans have taken their first shot. We are at a critical point, and we need more shots in arms to reverse course.”

On Friday at 3:00 p.m., Governor Edwards will hold a news conference updating the state on the COVID crisis.

You can watch the stream LIVE online or on our social media platforms.

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