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One week after being placed under a state of emergency, ICU beds in Alabama run out

COVID-19 hospital

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey placed Alabama under a state of emergency once again on Friday in response to rising COVID-19 cases.

The declaration doesn’t contain any new public health orders for masks or social distancing, but instead aimed to cut red-tape and ease regulations in Alabama’s hospitals. The emergency order lets hospitals bypass some processes for approving new facilities like ICU spaces, gives hospitals more flexibility when assigning medical staff, and will and let out-of-state medical professionals practice in Alabama. 

Alabama experienced a shortage of ICU beds earlier this week. The Alabama Hospital Association said that Alabama is equipped with 1,577 ICU beds, but that on Tuesday 1,568 patients needed ICU care.

Alabama Hospital Association President Don Williamson said hospitals now have to plan for an overflow of ICU patients.

“So, the situation is unfortunately what you’d expect with a worsening pandemic. Hospital beds are filling up, ICU beds are becoming more difficult to acquire,” Williamson said. “Hospitals are having to look at ways to open up additional beds for ICU care.”

According to Williamson, some patients in need of ICU care have been treated in hallways or emergency rooms due to lack of available ICU spaces. In addition to mounting COVID-19 hospitalizations, Williamson said that Alabama’s hospitals are also struggling to maintain adequate staff.

“When I talk to hospitals, the one continuous issue that everyone had is staffing. Everybody needs more staff than they have. They started the pandemic with a staffing shortage. Through the pandemic we lost staff. Now, while we are backfilling some of those positions with traveling nurses, we aren’t able to get as many as we’d like,” Williamson said. “Add to that the reality that we are now seeing in some places our own staff coming down with COVID. And as a result, that further limits the availability of staff.”

As of Tuesday, 2,700 in Alabama were hospitalized with the coronavirus. That’s over ten times higher than the 235 hospitalizations Alabama had on July 6 when Ivey’s original emergency declaration was allowed to expire.

Williamson said that the quickly-transmitting Delta variant of the Coronavirus shocked Alabama’s hospitals.

“I think we saw the Delta variant coming, but I think we, like everybody, were amazed by the speed with which the Delta variant has become dominant,” Williamson said. “You know, the reality is we are still in a situation where we have fewer people in the hospital today than we did in January, now that’s probably going to change in the next couple of weeks.”

Connor Todd is a news intern for Alabama Public Radio.
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