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AMES — The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics — heading into the fall and winter months with COVID still spreading — is preparing for another surge, albeit different from the one that stressed the campus last year.
This time around, UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran told the Board of Regents on Wednesday, non-COVID patients aren’t putting off care.
“Last year, one of the saving graces — if you want to call it a saving grace — was that the pandemic was depressing health care demand,” he said. “People were putting off care. So during various different COVID peaks, the hospital was otherwise empty for certain types of care.
“That's not the case right now. We're full for all types of care — and on top of it, we’re seeing these COVID volumes right now.”
He noted a significant number of local patients — not just statewide transfers — are walking into UIHC urgent cares and coming in for COVID testing.
And, where the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital last summer reported a 65 percent occupancy, it’s up above 90 percent right now, Gunasekaran said.
“The Children's Hospital has its own crisis,” Gunasekaran said. “And this is not a function of COVID alone. We are having significant respiratory illness among children who are being hospitalized. And within Iowa, there are not too many pediatric ICU beds in the state.”
Noting Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines is experiencing the same, Gunasekaran said, “We're very concerned that we're already at this level of occupancy and it's only September.”
In typical years, the UI Children’s Hospital census peaks in fall and winter months due to flu and RSV — and last year saw among the lowest RSV and flu rates in recent history. With those illnesses threatening to surge alongside COVID, officials said they’re anticipating “capacity and operational challenges.”
As of Wednesday, UIHC was reporting 35 adult COVID patients and six pediatric COVID patients. Those patients — combined with others needing beds — have in recent months compounded pressure on the university’s emergency room.
“We had four months of the worst ‘left-without-being-seen’ rate in our emergency department because of space constraints and patients boarding in our ER while waiting for an inpatient bed to become available,” according to the UIHC report to regents.
“Efficiencies have allowed UIHC to support demand in patient care, including transfers and complex care, but increasingly patients are having to wait longer.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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