Covid crowds some out of Ohio hospitals, federal release shows

By: - December 23, 2020 12:55 am

Ohio Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, at right. Source: The Ohio Channel.

Hospital beds in Ohio and elsewhere are filling with coronavirus patients, prompting the federal government to ease rules and allow more people to be treated at home. But for some reason, top Ohio health officials don’t seem to want to say that.

Among other experts, Ashish K. Jha has reported that nationally the portion of covid sufferers being hospitalized began dropping at the beginning of November and the trend accelerated from there. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, called that “terrible news” because it meant that as hospitals have filled they’ve begun admitting fewer people.

But last week when he was asked if that’s happening in Ohio, Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer with the Ohio Department of Health, said it wasn’t. He said that even before the pandemic, Ohio hospitals were looking for ways to care for patients without admitting them.

“So I don’t think it’s true… that (hospitals are) consciously not bringing someone in that they previously brought in unless they now feel they’ve got a better way of treating them that keeps them out of the hospital,” Vanderhoff said.

That doesn’t seem to square with a Dec. 10 news release by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It was titled, “CMS Takes Steps to Enhance Hospital Capacity in Toledo Amid COVID-19 Surge.” It went on to describe “unprecedented comprehensive steps to increase the capacity of the American healthcare system to provide care to patients outside a traditional hospital setting amid a rising number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hospitalizations across the country.”

Making even more explicit the need to free up Ohio hospital beds because of the covid strain, the press release quoted Randy Oostra, president and CEO of Toledo Hospital owner ProMedica.

“…the Toledo metropolitan area is experiencing an extreme surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” Oostra said.

He added, “During this critical time, we applaud CMS’s innovation and leadership to help our hospitals implement pragmatic and proactive responses that advance patient safety and maximize needed acute care inpatient access for our region’s sickest patients.”

It seems to be beyond dispute that bed space — particularly in intensive care units — is needed in at least some Ohio hospitals. 

The New York Times this week published an interactive map of the United States showing how full hospital ICUs are. It says that in Columbus, for example, Grant, Riverside and Ohio State hospitals all have intensive care units that are more than 90% occupied and have 29 available ICU beds between them.

On Tuesday, 1,160 coronavirus patients occupied almost 24% of Ohio’s ICU beds, according to the state health department. Vanderhoff has stressed that it’s a bad sign when any single ailment accounts for such a large portion of the ICU population. That would seem especially true when the ailment wasn’t even a thing a year ago.

Historians and public health experts say that in an emergency such as a pandemic, it’s crucial to tell the public the truth about what’s going on.

However, pressed on whether Ohio hospitals are declining to admit some patients because covid has strained their capacity, an Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman wouldn’t go there.

“The CDC has cleared some of the regulatory hurdles that might otherwise impede hospitals’ efforts, begun long before Covid-19, to safely and effectively treat more patients at home and in ambulatory settings,” Press Secretary Melanie Amato said in an email.  

She added, “Today our hospitals and emergency departments are, in fact, referring patients for continuing care outside the hospital who in the past would have required hospital admission because of a variety of innovations in care delivery; and, (the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has taken important steps to facilitate this. We applaud these innovations because, generally, care that can be delivered safely and effectively close to home should be.” 



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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.