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ICU beds already near capacity with non-coronavirus patients at L.A. County hospitals

ICU beds at Los Angeles County hospitals are already at or near capacity, prompting worries of shortages ahead of expected coronavirus surge By MATT STILES, IRIS LEE MARCH 20, 20204:27 PM Intensive care beds at Los Angeles County’s emergency-room hospitals are already at or near capacity, even as those facilities have doubled the number available for COVID-19 patients in recent days, according to newly released data obtained by The Times. Fewer than 200 ICU beds were available Wednesday, with most ICU beds occupied by non-coronavirus patients, according to the data which covers the roughly 70 public and private hospitals in Los Angeles County that receive emergency patients. The figures, which haven’t been disclosed previously, offer the first real-time glimpse of capacity levels at hospitals from Long Beach to the Antelope Valley and raise fresh worries that the hospital system, which is already strained by shortages, could soon run short of beds. “I am very concerned. We have a limited number of ICU beds available in L.A. County,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who urged residents to heed social-distancing orders to reduce infection rates and strain on medical resources. “I would like to begin exploring every possible solution to increase the capacity of our hospital system, including building pop-up hospital sites.” The anticipated surge of coronavirus patients is setting off a scramble to increase capacity of all types of beds, some of which could be converted to ICU units, according to county health officials. To accomplish that, hospitals are halting elective services to open up more space, and are considering other plans to expand capacity, including converting existing space or erecting tents. That effort shows in the figures, with the number of beds overall nearly doubling in the last several days — from 624 on March 13 to 1,182 as of Wednesday. That change includes an increase of ICU beds, which have more equipment and a higher staff-to-patient ratio, from 85 to 191, according to the figures. Christina Ghaly, a physician who directs the county’s vast system of providers, clinics, and hospitals known as the Department of Health Services, said hospitals can add ICU beds by converting existing space. That entails equipping beds with special equipment and adding personnel and, in some cases, getting approval from state regulators. Rooms could also be opened in non-emergency room hospitals, which aren’t included in the current figures. “The hospitals across the entire county are working very hard to free up capacity, and also to create capacity,” said Ghaly. County officials stressed that the figures represent the current staffing needs by hospitals, which have a greater “surge” capacity as more patients get sick. She said they are also asking state officials to fast-track additional capacity. But despite the progress, as many as 90% percent of licensed ICU beds are already occupied with patients who have suffered other medical emergencies, such as heart attacks, car accidents and other cases, according Ghaly said.