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Omaha metro hits record COVID hospitalizations, but capacity remains steady

WOWT 6 News Live at 10
Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 10:15 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Omaha metro surpassed a grim milestone on Tuesday: the highest number of hospitalizations caused by COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

But, as the number of COVID-19 patients continues to increase, hospitals are still not at full capacity. Tuesday’s release from the Douglas County Health Department said hospital capacity sits at 84% with 233 beds available.

However, decreased capacity is not necessarily a good thing, says Jeremy Nordquist, the President of the Nebraska Hospital Association.

“Pretty much all of our systems in the area have restricted elective procedures including procedures that can be put off for months, you know, potentially shoulder surgery, it could be procedures for cancer for surgeries that need to happen in that space,” he says. “The only procedures at the [Nebraska] Med Center right now that they’re doing are procedures that have to be done in 24 hours, but all the other systems have restrictions for procedures in place.”

This isn’t new - some hospitals have been limiting procedures for several months.

But Nordquist says right now, there’s no end in sight.

“We have a long haul ahead of us in terms of trying to control the spread of COVID in our community once we get to that point, hopefully, we’ll see hospitalizations for COVID come down and that’s hopefully also when we’ll also see capacity go up and hospitals be able to reinstate those elective, non-emergency procedures,” he adds.

As COVID patients continue to come in, hospitals are forced to postpone surgeries with just a day or two of notice.

“Really, it’s an hour-by-hour decision for these hospitals,” Nordquist says. “Hospitals are trying to get patients in for their procedures as much as possible but they have to balance it with preserving enough capacity to care for the sick patients that are coming in their front door as well as the COVID patients they’re seeing right now at record high levels.”

It’s essentially a double-edged sword, and either way, someone may not be getting the care they need.

“It’s essential that Nebraskans realize the serious nature of this, that hospitals are doing their best to provide care but it could be your family member whose cancer surgery is delayed, it could be your spouse’s orthopedic surgery that’s delayed.”

Nordquist added that the best method of defense against the coronavirus and the best way to help you stay out of local hospitals is by getting your COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shot.

Tuesday evening, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announced a way to help alleviate the burden hospitals are facing with COVID-19 patients, through the Hospital Decompression Program.

In a release, the DHHS said:

The Hospital Decompression Program is designed to move patients out of hospitals when they no longer require acute care, but still require skilled nursing care and have been unable to find a skilled nursing facility (SNF).

This program will allow recovering patients to receive necessary care while they wait to discharge to their home or find an SNF facility without making use of acute hospital beds. A total of 78 to 98 hospital decompression beds will be available in the following locations:

  • Lincoln: 16 to 36 beds operated by Mission Health Communities
  • Omaha: 32 beds (TBA pending finalized contract)
  • Grand Island: 30 bed (TBA pending finalized contract)

The first patients will be accepted to the Lincoln facility on February 1. Other facilities will begin accepting patients 10 to 14 days after contracts are finalized.

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