WellSpan to double ICU beds in preparation for coronavirus peak

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Ann Elliott, R.N., left, and clinical operations coordinator and patient safety officer Jennifer Strayer work together at the drive up COVID-19 coronavirus testing site at WellSpan Family Medicine - Cape Horn in Windsor Township, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Candidates must be directed to the facility for testing by a physician prior to arrival. Dawn J. Sagert photo

WellSpan Health is slated to double the number of its intensive care unit beds as the state braces for a peak in coronavirus cases in coming weeks, hospital officials announced Monday.

The health care system estimates that it will free up room for 160 additional ICU beds in its hospitals, which span southcentral Pennsylvania. That would mean an additional 60 beds in York County.

WellSpan Surgery and Rehabilitation Hospital will also shift its focus to providing acute care for non-COVID-19 patients, freeing up additional room at York Hospital for those infected.

"It’s important to understand that we have not yet seen the worst of the pandemic," said John Porter, WellSpan executive vice president, in an online news conference Monday.

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There is no estimate on when the expansion project will be complete.

A representative for UPMC, which operates Memorial Hospital in West Manchester Township and Hanover Hospital, did not immediately respond to inquiries about whether it would take similar precautionary measures.

WellSpan's announcement came as models predict a peak in COVID-19 cases is just around the corner.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, for example, estimates that cases will peak in the state in mid-April.

As of noon Tuesday, the state Department of Health reported there were 14,559 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 240 virus-related deaths.

There have been 218 cases in York County, and two deaths have been reported.

Severe spikes in coronavirus cases nationwide have caused concerns that hospitals won't have enough beds, resources or staff to handle patients, particularly in New York City, which has become the outbreak's epicenter in the U.S.

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York-area hospitals would need to nearly double the number of beds if 20% of adults were to be infected over the next six months, according to a model created by researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute.

However, that represents a best-case scenario.

Under the worst-case scenario — where 60% of adults contract the illness — the Harvard model predicts local hospitals would need to quadruple their bed count if the infection took place over a six-month period.

Hospitals would still be under-equipped if that level of infection took place over the next 12 to 18 months, according to the model.

The state and federal government have taken a variety of measures to aid hospitals.

Gov. Tom Wolf last week signed legislation boosting funding for health care facilities by $50 million.

President Donald Trump has approved a disaster declaration for the state, freeing up federal aid to bolster mitigation efforts.

As of Monday, confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide approached 1.3 million, killing more than 70,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.

More than 330,000 cases had been confirmed in the U.S. — the most confirmed cases of any country in the world — with the death toll exceeding 9,500.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.