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January 12, 2022

Just how crowded are hospitals right now? Why the data can be so misleading.

Daily Briefing

    Hospitals throughout New York City are reporting thousands of available beds—but front-line health care workers are struggling to find space for patients as the omicron surge drives Covid-19 hospitalizations to record levels.

    To boost your capacity during an omicron surge, start here

    The disconnect between reported bed availability and reality

    Despite being the epicenter of the omicron surge where the variant hit early and has since pushed hospitals to the brink, New York City hospitals recently reported that roughly 20% of the city's hospital beds are currently available.

    According state data, about 6,100 of the total 12,000 hospitalized patients have Covid-19 as of Sunday—a figure not seen since May 2020. Among those patients, roughly 750 were in intensive care units.

    And while hospitals are self-reporting bed availability, health care workers on the front lines have said the claims do not reflect their realities. In fact, some workers have said public data does not match the hospitals' internal systems that track real-time capacity.

    For instance, Benny Mathew, an ED nurse at Montefiore Medical Center's Moses campus in North Central Bronx and a board member of the New York State Nurses Association, said some patients were waiting for up to two days before they could be admitted.

    "It is so crowded, to get from one bed to the next we have to move the stretchers," Mathew said.

    Notably, Mathew said the ED last Wednesday had 32 patients waiting for beds, and two patients waiting for a bed in the ICU—but the hospital's self-reported data suggested the Moses campus was at 75% capacity at the time, with over 200 open beds.

    This disconnect seemingly stems from the data collection process—specifically, the way public data is consolidated and what time hospitals record their numbers. In addition, public datasets seemingly combine adult and children's hospitals and do not specify availability by bed type, even though workers say these beds are not always interchangeable. As a result, the state often gets an inaccurate picture, according to workers. 

    And while hospital workers largely agreed that today's Covid patients are less sick than those in previous coronavirus waves, they noted that the rising number of hospitalizations and workforce shortages are creating the "perfect storm."

    U.S. hospitalizations continue to rise

    According to HHS data, the number of nationwide Covid-19 hospitalizations as of Sunday was 142,388—up from last winter's peak of 142,315 reported on Jan. 14. In addition, the seven-day average for daily hospitalizations was 132,086—reflecting an 83% increase from two weeks ago.

    Hospitalization totals include "incidental" Covid-19 cases, where individuals contract the virus after being admitted for unrelated conditions—but there is no data to distinguish the number of people in that category, the New York Times reports.

    The surge, largely driven by people under the age of 60, has overwhelmed hospitals around the nation.

    Currently, health experts believe hospitalizations are one of the most reliable ways to measure the state of the pandemic. In fact, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it was "much more relevant to focus on the hospitalizations."

    However, experts also caution the situation has not yet peaked, as hospitalizations typically lag case counts by about two weeks. (Kaufman, Modern Healthcare/Crain's New York Business, 1/10; Astor et al., New York Times, 1/10)

    Learn more: Check out our new omicron surge toolkit

    We've collected our best resources and insights for creating capacity, supporting staff, communicating with patients, and more. This page will be a consistent work in progress as we compile the newest and most helpful resources. Check out all the resources, including:

    Access the toolkit

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