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As COVID-19 hospitalizations increase in Nebraska, metro Omaha, health systems plan for surge

As COVID-19 hospitalizations increase in Nebraska, metro Omaha, health systems plan for surge


Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are increasing in the Omaha area, but hospital officials say that while the increase is concerning, it’s manageable for now.

As of Friday, health care systems in the Omaha metro area reported 88% occupancy, with 172 beds available out of 1,386.

A total of 25 beds remained open in intensive care units for a 93% occupancy rate.

As of Friday, 144 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 were hospitalized in metro area hospitals. Thirteen patients confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 were on ventilators.

State health officials reported Friday that 293 people in Nebraska were hospitalized with the illness. That tops the state’s previous peak of 232 hospitalizations on May 27.

Over the last 14 days, Douglas County recorded 2,131 positive COVID-19 cases.

Because of the rise in cases, the area can expect to see more hospitalizations down the road, said Dr. Anne O’Keefe, senior epidemiologist with the Douglas County Health Department.

Through great effort earlier this year, O’Keefe said, local hospitals were able to handle a large number of COVID-19 cases. This time, she said, the caseload might prove to be a bigger challenge.

“You’re going to start seeing hospitals finding a very difficult time to care for COVID patients,” O’Keefe said. “It was pretty shocking when we saw it on TV in New York and Italy. You thought, ‘Oh, that will never happen here.’ ”

Hospital officials are not sounding the alarm, however.

Dr. Cliff Robertson, CHI Health’s chief executive, said Thursday that if needed, his health system has the ability to nearly double its capacity to 2,000 beds. Robertson said CHI Health hospitals also could increase the number of intensive care beds by using post-op recovery rooms and operating rooms.

“As a health system, we still have plenty of capacity,” he said.

Officials with Methodist Health System said they have plans in place for potential patient surges related to COVID-19.

“We’re all seeing an uptick in COVID-19 numbers across the communities we serve,” said Steve Goeser, president and CEO of the health system, “and our planning and preparedness continues.”

In an interview with the Associated Press, Cory Shaw, chief operating officer for Nebraska Medicine’s hospital and clinics, said, “Obviously, we’re concerned. But as of right now, we are in a good place in terms of managing that need.”

Children’s Hospital & Medical Center has a 66% occupancy rate. The hospital, on average, has had one to two patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at any given time, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Officials at the pediatric hospital already are preparing for a winter surge of patients because of seasonal respiratory illnesses. Children’s plan allows for expanded bed capacity with room sharing and the potential to convert playrooms into overflow rooms.

The uptick in COVID-19 cases could stem from cooler weather pushing people indoors, delayed gatherings and people letting their guard down, O’Keefe said. That, plus cold and flu season, could complicate things.

Former U.S. Sens. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., on Friday issued a joint statement on Nebraska topping 50,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“Nebraskans are hurting,” they wrote. “Seven months after our state’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, we’re seeing record numbers of Nebraskans hospitalized with this deadly disease and 50,059 confirmed cases across the state. Here’s the sad truth: it didn’t have to be this bad. President Trump isn’t responsible for the virus, but his refusal to listen to experts and scientists, his insistence on playing politics with the lives of people in Nebraska, and his failure to mount a serious response have made this crisis worse.”

O’Keefe advised people to get flu shots, wear masks and practice social distancing, especially when indoors.

“It’s a warning,” she said. “How can we get more people to follow our simple public health recommendations for preventing spread of this disease? We’ve been saying this for months, and the problem is that not enough people are following them.”

Omaha World-Herald: Live Well

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