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Record Shattered For COVID-19 Patient Count As Oklahoma Hospitals Try To Keep Up

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Courtesy Oklahoma City Fire Department
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A member of the Oklahoma City Fire Department Urban Search and Rescue Team working on construction of an overflow tent at SSM St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City on Monday, Nov. 30, in preparation for an expected surge in coronavirus hospitalizations.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported Tuesday a record-breaking 1,782 Oklahomans hospitalized due to COVID-19 across the state, with 475 of those -- also a record high -- requiring intensive care.

Oklahoma Hospital Association President Patti Davis said Tuesday hospitals are dealing with capacity issues across the state.

"Our stated goal in the surge plan has always been to keep patients regionally if possible, but we know at this point that it's not always possible to do that," Davis said on a Zoom press conference organized by the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition, a consortium of state health care organizations.

"ICU beds are the most critical need at this point on a statewide level," Davis said. "While we still have a few every day, those beds are in high-demand."

Dr. Jason Lees, professor of surgery and vice-chair of academic affairs at OU College of Medicine, said that limiting or canceling elective surgeries, as has been suggested as a means to address capacity strains caused by the pandemic, would not be a cure-all for his hospital.

"If we got rid of all of our true elective surgeries, it would only really give us three ICU beds a day, because the majority of true elective [surgeries] are done as an outpatient," Lees said. "When you take the more complex patients that are often transfered in from other hospitals requiring ICU, either as a trauma or with COVID, those ICU beds become very precious."

"So even if we got rid of elective surgeries, the more complex surgeries that are being done still would require those ICU beds and it really would not give us the growth that we need," Lees said.

Dr. Jason Hill, chief medical officer at the Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority, said the pandemic was having an impact on their operations, including the elimination of all non-emergency dental care.

"There's also personnel issues. For instance, today I found out that one particular clinic had three of the four lab personnel out with coronavirus or quarantine," Hill said.

"There's not an employee in the system that has not, in some way, been affected by coronavirus," Hill said.

In response to a question about the construction of overflow tents at SSM St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City in anticipation of a surge in patients, Davis said that may become a more common sight at more of the state's hospitals.

"Do I expect you're going to be seeing some more tents? It's highly possible," Davis said.

"Do I expect our hospitals to exercise the full compendium of things that are going to help them with patient flow? Absolutely, I expect we'll see more," she said.

Davis said she knew of no hospitals in the state that have yet to allow asymptomatic COVID-positive staff to continue working, a practice the state health department is advising may be used in emergency situations and which the Oklahoma Nurses Association has labeled "reckless."

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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