Growing Number of COVID Patients Concerns Big Island Hospitals
January 11, 2022, 4:53 PM HST
* Updated January 11, 4:54 PM
The increasing hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant is becoming a concern for Big Island hospitals.
According to Hawai’i County Civil Defense, the state Department of Health reported 208 new COVID cases Tuesday, 3,688 active cases and 38 people hospitalized because of the virus. As of Tuesday, Hilo Medical Center reported 20 hospitalized and Kona Community Hospital reported 19.
Those numbers might not seem high on the surface, but taking into account the total number of beds available for all acute care patients, not just those suffering from COVID, the situation is beginning to take its toll.
While the hospitals were on alert late last week, they are making plans and changes to accommodate the increase in hospitalizations, just as they did during the worst of the Delta surge earlier last year.
“This is pushing our resources, straining our resources at that number,” Judy Donovan, spokeswoman at Kona Community Hospital, told Big Island Now.
The hospital had a total inpatient census of 79 people as of 8 a.m. Tuesday, and 19 of those were COVID-positive.
“So, because of the makeup of the hospital, having 79 patients here is extremely – it’s pushing the limit,” she said.
Elena Cabatu, spokeswoman for Hilo Medical Center, echoed those concerns.
“We are concerned because COVID is affecting workforces in all health care sectors,” Cabatu said. “That means a good number of the long-term care facilities that we usually send our patients onward to continue their care, they’re closed because of their staffing issues due to exposures or positive cases. So they’re not accepting any patients.”
That means HMC must find beds for acute care patients because it has nowhere else to discharge them.
“As patients are still coming to us, we’re getting fuller and fuller without being able to alleviate the situation by sending them elsewhere,” Cabatu said.
She said the hospital was overcapacity in the emergency department Tuesday. HMC started the morning with 11 holds in the ER and was placing beds in the hallway to accommodate for the influx. The hospital is working hard to make sure patients can be discharged to home or a care home because long-term care facilities are closed to new admissions.
HMC is looking to open up a few more beds at its own long-term care facility and hoping other long-term care facilities can open up soon. The hospital is also looking at other areas where it can increase capacity.
“We’re watching it real closely,” Cabatu said. “We’re preparing ourselves to act and respond in the event that we know when we need that increased capacity of beds. But we have it.”
So while there is a heightened sense of concern, HMC is taking steps to handle additional hospitalizations, just like it did during the last COVID case surge in late summer and early fall.
“We’re pretty leveled in our approach and we have a plan in place,” Cabatu said.
“We are reassessing daily,” Donovan said.
Kona Community Hospital is making plans to find beds in the event they need them. Donovan said the hospital would overflow into the obstetrics department first and then into the recovery area for the surgical services department, which it used Monday for beds for acute patients because of an overflow.
The hospital also has a medical tent deployed somewhat adjacent to its intensive care unit, which it will decide later this week if it needs to be activated to manage any emergency department overflow of acute care patients.
“So those patients would go into this overflow tent so that they could be closer to the nursing units and it will be staffed by acute care nurses,” Donovan said.
Neither hospital has experienced the numbers that it did during the surge from the Delta variant. Cabatu said the most patients HMC had admitted at one time for COVID during that surge was 44. Donovan said KCH’s largest number of COVID hospitalizations at one point during that surge was 21.
The Omicron variant also doesn’t seem to be affecting people as severely as those who were hospitalized during the Delta surge. Cabatu reported HMC had one COVID patient in its intensive care unit Tuesday, but they did not require the assistance of a ventilator.
“The profile of this variant and this surge is starting to get a little clearer in terms of its severity,” she said.
But just because it’s not as severe doesn’t mean health officials are taking this surge lightly.
“We take this seriously because the hospital is so full, and whether or not you have COVID or a heart attack, we are still very full,” Cabatu said. “So it’s very difficult to provide the care our patients deserve and that we want to give them.”