UAB Hospital working to create more space as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — COVID-19 hospitalizations are soaring across Alabama, and it’s forcing UAB Hospital to create more space for patients.

UAB leaders said this week that more people statewide are now hospitalized with the coronavirus than at any previous time during the pandemic. And they haven’t even seen the full impact of New Year’s Eve gatherings. It’s leading to a lot of challenges for doctors.

“This is the most heartbreaking thing really for us because we are doing everything we can to get them home and to their loved ones, and it’s incredibly difficult,” UAB epidemiologist Dr. Rachael Lee said.

As of Thursday morning, UAB was caring for 181 COVID-19 patients, and 82 convalesced patients – those who are no longer infectious but still need care while recovering. The numbers have risen dramatically recently, and UAB is modifying the way it uses certain spaces within the hospital to maximize capacity. For example, a former emergency room waiting area now contains about 10 stretchers to help care for COVID-19 patients. Leaders also are housing patients in spaces not originally intended for overnight stays.

“Patients that would typically stay in a room overnight, we’re leaving in the recovery room,” UAB Hospital CEO Anthony Patterson said. “They’re staying there overnight, sometimes they’re staying there two nights, then they’re going home. Other patients that would typically just be watched overnight and then go home the next morning, we’re making use of hotels approximate to hospital.”

The numbers also are influencing decisions. With elective surgeries, Patterson said they’re focused mainly on the more urgent variety, such as those among cancer patients. Additionally, UAB can’t always serve as a safety net for other hospitals anymore.

“We have to be very cautious and assess if we can accept a transfer, and we do that even in normal times,” Patterson said. “But during the pandemic, we are stretched to the point to where it does certainly slow down, and in some cases may require us to wait a day or two before we can actually accept a transfer of a patient that needs to come to UAB.”

Patterson said the hospital has not reached maximum capacity yet, but it remains their biggest fear. If they reach that point, they’ll continue adapting.

“I think my posture on that would be, and if I asked most of my faculty and staff, they’d say, ‘We’ll do our very best to take care of any patient that comes through the hospital,'” Patterson said.


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