COVID-19

Why California hospitals are out of ICU beds

Meghan McCarty Carino Dec 31, 2020
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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
Heard on:
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
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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

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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