Discharge concerns cause shortage in ICU beds


Ethan Kispert


Hospitals throughout Washington State are seeing an uptick in new COVID-19 patients as the Delta variant continues to spread. With this increase comes an increase in ICU bed shortages. 


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Data from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) shows that COVID-19 patients make up 25.6% of ICU beds among hospitals statewide. From July 24 to July 30, COVID-19 patients made up just 11.9% of ICU beds (according to a 7-day average). 

Mark Taylor, director of operations at the Washington Medical Coordination Center (located within Harborview Medical Center), explained that patient concerns are one of the causes behind ICU bed shortages.

He said ICU patients who no longer need intensive levels of care are unable to move to other areas, commonly known as “step down” units, because of a lack of available beds. In normal circumstances, patients are moved out of an ICU unit when they no longer need any further intensive care. Recovering patients then spend a few more days directly in the hospital or in an acute rehabilitation facility or skilled nursing center. 

Mark Taylor said: 

“Most patients in ICU beds will remain in ICU beds because of the lack of space for recovering patients.”

Another issue, according to Shane McGuire, CEO of the Columbia County Health System, is that some recovering ICU patients are simply “electing” to stay where they are. 

“We’re hearing patients at larger medical facilities saying that they don’t want to be transferred to a smaller facility that’s two hours away and they’re basically electing to stay in those beds.”

He explained that patients don’t want to make the trip out of a fear of losing the bed they’re currently in should they need it later on. This then ties up available beds for incoming COVID-19 patients. 

According to DOH data from August 6 to August 12, 11.4% of hospitals’ total capacity is being used up by COVID-19 patients. This number is up from 8.7% a week earlier. 

Gov. Jay Inslee is taking steps to help control the spread of the virus. On Aug. 18, he announced a new statewide mask mandate for all individuals regardless of whether they’re vaccinated or not. This mandate places vaccine requirements on all K-12 workers and workers in higher education.