How ICU bed availability is calculated and what it means for the Southern California Region

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Posted at 10:41 PM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 02:11:05-05

Southern California is bracing for a healthcare system overload.

The state's most populous region, which includes San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, reported 0% Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed capacity on Dec. 17.

This is confusing when San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties are reporting available ICU beds.

According to Jackie Ruiz, Santa Barbara County Health spokeswoman, the Central Coast is a small fraction of the regional ICU bed availability.

According to theLos Angeles Times, “the state determines a region’s ICU capacity with a weighted formula to ensure that some ICU beds remain open for non-COVID patients.”

When ICU bed availability is at its lowest, hospitals will ramp up care for the sickest patients.

This could mean setting up field hospitals, expanding COVID floors, and hiring and cross-training more healthcare workers.

“California has been looking for other healthcare workers nationally and internationally. Hospitals are making decisions as they need to whether or not they need to stop elective surgeries to decompress,” Dr. Penny Borenstein said at the Dec. 16 San Luis Obispo County Public Health press conference. “We have in the county our alternative care site that could be stood up as needed; we have our medical reserve corps."

Health officers say they have back-up plans in case beds fill up locally, but the Central Coast isn't there yet.

“In [San Luis Obispo County], we continue to have more than half of our beds available in intensive care units across our four hospitals,” Dr. Borenstein said.

As of Dec. 17, eight COVID-19 patients are in the ICU in San Luis Obispo Countywith 40% ICU bed availability.

In Santa Barbara County, 23 COVID-19 patients are in the ICU with 29% ICU bed availability.

The number of open ICU beds changes hourly and daily as new patients are admitted or stabilized or no longer requiring intensive care.

As soon as the next day, we could be out of the 0% availability.

According to NBC LA, authorities plan to build field hospitals in multiple locations across the state, with three set in Orange County.

The alternative care site built at Cal Poly SLO has been empty since its conception and much of the beds are reserved for patients within the county, but Dr. Borenstein said Wednesday the county has received contracts from outside entities for potential use.