Coronavirus is straining Boston hospitals’ capacity as they brace for more patients after the holidays

The coronavirus pandemic is putting a growing strain on bed capacity at area hospitals, where staff are bracing for an influx of new COVID-19 patients after people return from their holiday travels and gatherings.
So far this month, the percentage of available adult ICU and adult medical and surgical beds at Boston hospitals has dropped from 30% on Dec. 1 to 14% last Friday, according to the Boston Public Health Commission, while the percentage of occupied adult non-surgical ICU beds rose from 80 to 88%.
“It keeps me up at night,” said Terry Hudson-Jinks, chief nursing officer at Tufts Medical Center. “We really hope we don’t get to that point where all of our beds are filled. It’s very serious. It’s very sobering.”
Tufts is licensed for a total of 415 beds. And although the numbers fluctuate constantly, the hospital already has been running at 120 to 130% of capacity for adult patients, Hudson-Jinks said. Of the hospital’s 60 current adult ICU beds, 25 to 30% have been occupied by COVID patients.
“Mostly, it’s the adults that are the growing need,” she said. “We’re always reevaluating to make sure we have capacity for patients who need our care. Our goal is to keep our doors open. But we’re very busy. The entire organization is working more shifts to support the increase in total patients and ensure we are prepared for the patients in need of hospitalization.”
As of Friday, Mass General Brigham — a system that includes Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and nine community hospitals — was at 76% total hospital occupancy and 86% ICU capacity, said Dr. Peter Dunn, vice president of procedural services, health care system engineering and capacity management. And 23% of the system’s inpatient population had either tested positive for COVID-19 or were COVID-risk patients whose test results were not yet available, Dunn said.
“It’s not just the numbers; it’s the acuity of the cases that’s a big challenge for us and our staff,” Dunn said. “Equipment and supplies are not an issue in this wave. These patients are sick and can change very quickly. So it requires a lot more intense monitoring.”
“What we’re all worried about,” he continued, “is what’s going to be the impact after the holidays. People are going to be traveling and not getting tested or quarantining. You don’t know all the social contacts people have been exposed to.”
Boston Medical Center, which has more than 440 beds, including 68 in its ICU, continues to have capacity available for both COVID and non-COVID patients, spokesman David Kibbe said. As of Friday, the hospital had 74 COVID-positive inpatients, including 17 in its ICU.
Hudson-Jinks said she also fears that some people who are seriously ill are delaying going to the hospital, which can make them sicker, or not going at all, either because they’re afraid of becoming infected by the coronavirus or overwhelming hospitals.
“It’s a really fine balance,” she said, “but we feel strongly that we want them. Our concern is people are waiting too long, and it’s not just COVID patients.”
“If you’re not feeling well, call your doctor,” Hudson-Jinks added. “If you’ve had any acute changes, such as chest pressure, stroke symptoms or severe pain, go to the hospital.”

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