Can Alabama’s hospitals handle coronavirus cases?

Can hospitals handle a pandemic?

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - There are an estimated 14,000 hospital beds in Alabama and at any given time, about 75% of those are being used, according to information provided by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). In Jefferson County, on average, 90% of hospital beds are being used. As cases of COVID-19 spread, there are concerns in Alabama, and across the country... at what point will our medical systems being overwhelmed?

“If you look at what we have today in terms of supplies and equipment and look at where we are today in terms of outbreak, then we are fine, with some minor shortages of some PPE (personal protection equipment), we’re fine. But the problem is, that’s not the measure,” said Dr. Don Williamson, President, Alabama Hospital Association. “The problem is, the measure is where are we going to be two weeks from now or a month from now? And the answer to that is going to largely be determined by how successful we are with social distancing and flattening the epi-curve.”

“Flattening the curve” has been used widely in the last few weeks as the goal behind social distancing, closures and cancellations of large events. The phrase is attached to a graph that has two epi curves, first used in a report about mitigating pandemic influenza by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017. One curve peaks early on, indicating a mass of infections within a short time. The other has a flatter slope, representing infections spread over a longer time.

"As long as we are aggressive in our social distancing and we are successful in limiting the spread of the disease, we will be able to manage this... as long as we flatten the curve and slow down the rate of growth of the epidemic. If we do not, then not only Alabama but every state will be overwhelmed in their healthcare system by this epidemic," said Dr. Williamson.

Dr. Williamson said social distancing is important because it prevents the spread of infections and levels out the demand on hospitals. “What we are also trying to do is we are trying to keep the healthcare system operational by keeping the demand low enough so we can continue to meet it with the supply, resources, and the people that are available."

“Our healthcare system in today’s world, most of healthcare are in a just-in-time basis. It’s not financially feasible to stockpile a year’s worth of stuff. If we don’t act, we run the risk of being like Italy. Have we waited too long? We don’t know, but we do know the longer we delay, the greater the impact on the healthcare system and the longer the impact on the healthcare system,” said Dr. Williamson.

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