COVID-19

Why California hospitals are out of ICU beds

Meghan McCarty Carino Dec 31, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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A patient lies on a stretcher in the hallway of the overloaded emergency room at a hospital in Southern California on Dec. 23. Mario Tama/Getty Images
COVID-19

Why California hospitals are out of ICU beds

Meghan McCarty Carino Dec 31, 2020
A patient lies on a stretcher in the hallway of the overloaded emergency room at a hospital in Southern California on Dec. 23. Mario Tama/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

With the resurgence in COVID-19 cases, hospitals around the country are in trouble. It’s even worse in California where many hospitals are at zero percent capacity in their Intensive Care Units.

In Southern California, the epicenter of the outbreak, hospitals have turned away ambulances because they are so short on beds, some even putting patients in conference rooms and gift shops according to the Los Angeles Times. Despite being the wealthiest state, California has a lower than average number of hospital beds.

California has 1.8 hospital beds per 1,000 residents, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s below the national average, the third lowest in the country.

But, it turns out, that’s by design, and Stephen Shortell, a professor of health policy and management at University of California, Berkeley, said “for the most part, it’s a good thing.”

Shortell said that the state’s limited hospital capacity is an outgrowth of California’s dominant form of “managed” health care — typified by Kaiser Permanente — which focuses more on prevention and outpatient care. In this system, he said, “you have every incentive to keep them out of that hospital bed.”

He added that in a “normal” emergency, patients can be moved to mobile field hospitals. But those need to be staffed by medical professionals, and that’s the challenge during this pandemic, said Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at University of California, San Francisco.

“A lot of our system is set up to say, ‘Oh, there’s a big earthquake in Northern California, we can bring health help in from Southern California,’ but everybody’s being squeezed at the same time,” Rutherford said.

California relaxed nurse-to-patient ratios earlier this month, as hospitalizations climbed above 20,000.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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