The ICU Needs You

Katie Flanagan

More stories from Katie Flanagan

The situation has become dire.

Early 2020 started with high hopes and an innocent stay-at-home order. Now, 2021 is here to reap the consequences. From overcrowded emergency rooms to hospitals turning away ambulances, the lack of space in the ICU is an issue that needs to be addressed.

The difficulties Southern California hospitals have been pitted against through the last couple of months is astronomical.

To give a glimpse into hospital complications, picture this: Arrays of tents spread about parking lots lined with ICU beds and morgue refrigerators filled to brim. Stripped of the luxurious one-person rooms and extensive care, the rise in Covid-19 cases force hospitals to prioritize the sickest patients.

“With Covid, the demand was so high and patients were so sick that people were passing away faster and in larger quantities,” says a Facilities Director of a local Southern California hospital. “What happens is you lose your capacity and you fill those morgue refrigerators. So we’ve had to bring in temporary units to add more space for more deceased patients.”

As of January 15, both San Joaquin Valley and Southern California regions reported 0% ICU capacity. This hurled both citizens and healthcare workers into a state of panic.

The number 0 is intimidating. It indicates the depletion of resources and lack of intensive care units. Hospitals go into “surge mode”, resorting to methods such as makeshift intensive care units and the conversion of patient care areas.

“We’ve had to build ICU capabilities in floors that typically would not be for ICU patients who are very sick,” says the Facilities Director, “We have to open up different floors. So sometimes a floor that was meant for maybe orthopedics, we’ve had to convert patient care areas to take them over for Covid patients.”

It seems that desperation calls for frantic measures to be taken. Along with the accommodations for ICU patients, bed-ridden people are in need of more than just a place to rest. With an at-home oxygen program pending, there are only so many resources hospitals can turn to.

“When you’re a patient and you have an illness like Covid, it takes a lot on your respiratory system,” says the Facilities Director, “So a lot of patients are on what is called a high oxygen demand and because we’ve had so many patients with that need, our oxygen systems have been stressed.”

As our bodies try to fight against the virus, the lungs only become inflamed and filled with fluid. Simply put, Covid-19 patients are in need of oxygen.

And the oxygen supply is dwindling.

Nevertheless, frontline workers are putting every ounce of their strength to help improve efficiency. Day by day, the ICU capacity is improving and more people are taking precautions to ensure they’re Covid-free. Even amidst tragedy, progress is being made. Steps are being taken. Lives are being saved.