Mecklenburg Co. health leaders not concerned by hospitalization capacity despite state’s worry

Meck health leaders downplay hospitalization concerns

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - One day after state health leaders said they were concerned about hospital capacity in Charlotte, local health leaders are responding with less concern.

Mecklenburg County health officials say they are not concerned about the hospitalization capacity, as well as preparedness, for treating coronavirus patients.

This is following Thursday’s press conference where state health leaders, and Gov. Roy Cooper, discussed their worry about capacity and hospitalizations in North Carolina, and especially in the Charlotte area.

Mecklenburg County Public Health, Atrium Health and Novant Health issued a joint statement saying they are not concerned about capacity or preparedness to manage COVID-19 hospitalizations in Charlotte, but they are concerned about increasing trends.

“While today we are not concerned about our capacity or preparedness to manage COVID-19 cases, we do share the state’s concerns about the trends we are seeing,” the statement read.

Health leaders said that Charlotte hospitals have the capacity to care for additional COVID-19 patients.

According to the statement, about 80 percent of in-patient hospital beds and intensive care unit beds in Charlotte hospitals are full.

According to DHHS, about 78 percent of in-patient hospital beds and intensive care unit beds are full statewide.

In a joint statement, local health officials said that “both Atrium Health and Novant Health have been working diligently on preparedness plans, which includes increasing bed capacity and reinforcing supply chains.”

The statement continues:

“We’re confident that because of these efforts, there will not be a need to again postpone non-emergent appointments or elective surgeries at this time. These services are vital to maintain for the health of our communities.

“The latest Public Health data release shows that over the last week, an average of 175 patients are hospitalized in Mecklenburg County for COVID-19 treatment. While our ICU cases and ventilations remain steady, we are seeing an increase of cases that require hospitalization, particularly among younger patients. Overall, approximately 20% of our hospital beds are open with 20% of our intensive care unit beds available at this time.

“Our hope is that we won’t need to use our added beds and we’ll begin to see a reversal in these trends. It’s critical our communities continue to take COVID-19 seriously and follow recommended safety measures. Masking, physical distancing and hand washing is as critical as ever and we urge everyone to educate themselves on how to keep themselves – and their neighbors - safe. This not only helps reduce the spread of COVID-19, but helps our hospitals conserve valuable resources like PPE and continue providing care to all who need it.”

WBTV obtained an internal memo sent to employees of Lake Norman Regional Medical Center updating the state of the coronavirus pandemic in North Carolina.

The memo referenced increasing hospitalizations across the state and pointed to one reason why the numbers could be rising.

“One reason for the increase in hospitalizations is from hospitals in other states transferring patients to accepting NC hospitals due to lack of beds,” the memo read.

WBTV contacted DHHS for confirmation on this.

“Anecdotally, we have heard patients are being admitted to hospitals in North Carolina from other states, but you would need to reach out to the hospitals for more information,” Communications Manager for NCDHHS Kelly height Connor said.

WBTV contacted Novant Health, Atrium Health, and Lake Norman Regional Medical Center. A spokesperson for Novant Health was not aware of any COVID-19 patient transfers from other states due to a lack of beds. Atrium Health and Lake Norman Regional Medical Center have not yet responded to WBTV’s request.

As of Friday, there are 1,046 coronavirus hospitalizations in North Carolina.

The state reported nearly 2,000 new cases on Friday. There have been 81,336 people in the state who have tested positive for the virus.

As of Thursday, 13,695 people in Mecklenburg County tested positive, along with 163 deaths.

North Carolina reported on Friday its highest amount of COVID-19 hospitalizations for the second day in a row.

State health leaders said on Thursday they continue to be concerned about that trend.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, mentioned the Charlotte area as a hotspot for hospitalizations.

“We are particularly concerned about the Charlotte area and their hospital capacity,” Cohen said. “We are in touch with them all of the time but we had a call with all of the hospitals in the Charlotte area.”

In the Charlotte area, with major hospital systems Novant and Atrium, hospitalizations continue to rise.

Cohen said capacity is starting to become an issue.

“They are doing a great job of handling the higher number of cases they are seeing and are really being thoughtful about planning for more,” Cohen said.

Health leaders are urging North Carolina residents, and those in the Charlotte area, to abide by the state mandate on wearing face masks, along with following the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where we are nearing our ICU capacity,” Cohen said. “We want to avoid a situation where hospitals are forced to postpone procedures or surgeries or other essential non-COVID care.”

In the Charlotte area, health officials say there is still hospital capacity as the spread of the virus continues.

However, if hospitalizations continue to rise at this rate, health officials are concerned that hospitals will quickly near capacity, especially in the Charlotte area.

“It is good that we still have hospital and ICU capacity, but as Dr. Cohen said, we watch this closely and are especially paying attention to hospitals in the Charlotte area,” NC Gov. Roy Cooper said. “Just take a look at some of the other states where a swift uptick in cases quickly caused hospitals to fill up. We don’t want that to happen here.”

A spokesperson for Novant Health told WBTV that over the past couple of weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations there have increased.

The numbers have held steady because while an increasing number of patients have arrived, patients are being discharged at the same time.

According to Novant Health, the hospital system is in a better place because it has been able to increase bed capacity, conserved PPE and make other investments to improve clinical management.

“That said, we continue to have a steady stream of COVID-19 patients being admitted,” A Novant Health spokesperson said. “Patients are skewing younger in age. While their length of stay may be shorter than it was a couple of months ago, we continue to care for more COVID-19 patients now than we did then. At the same time, more patients are seeking care for other emergent and non-emergent needs as we’ve resumed postponed services so we’re managing care for more patients, overall.”

Statewide, about 79 percent of in-patient hospital beds are taken, 78 percent of ICU beds are taken, and there are more than 2,500 ventilators available.

Earlier Thursday, Atrium Health Medical Director of Infection Prevention Dr. Katie Passeretti said the hospital system was handling the current caseload fine.

“Our hospitalizations have continued to gradually tick up but at least in our area we’ve been able to handle both COVID-postive patients and the patients that are in the hospital or treatment for other reasons,” Dr. Passaretti said.

Novant Health sent WBTV this statement:

“When the coronavirus first really started to hit our communities in mid-March, we made the careful decision to limit some services. During this time, which is also when a stay-at-home order was in place, we were able to greatly increase our capacity, by about 60%, and reinforce our supply chain.

“For about two months (since early May) we’ve been balancing our COVID-19 response while resuming those postponed services and continue to fine-tune our ability to toggle between our COVID-19 cases and tier 4 recovery patients.

“We don’t see a scenario during a second wave, or surge, where we’d again have a need to put a pause on non-essential surgeries or appointments in large part because of our diligent preparedness planning over that time period. We continue to work on team member resiliency and prepare for the redeployment of our care teams should we need that additional workflow and support.”

Novant Health currently has capacity to care for additional COVID-19 patients at our hospitals.

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