OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As COVID-19 numbers rise from the delta variant, rural hospitals across the state are having increased difficulty finding places to send ICU patients – often having to transport them multiple hours away to different states.
“We’re in the middle of a bed crisis,” said Dr. Carlos Cabrera, doctor at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital in Shawnee. “We’ve tried pretty much every hospital in Oklahoma — in Oklahoma City and in Tulsa — there’s just no ICU beds.”
Finding beds now takes extra resources for the hospitals and their staff.
“You don’t just pick up the phone and make a call and then out the door,” Cabrera said. “You gotta get either a helicopter or an actual airplane to fly the patient to these cities.”
The Muscogee Creek Nation is seeing similar issues, forced to transport three COVID patients to bordering states in just a 2-day span last week.
Unfortunately, some patients did not live long enough to see a transfer.
“We’ve sent one to Wichita and Colorado Springs,” said Shawn Terry, Muscogee Creek Nation Secretary of Health. “Unfortunately, we have had a couple expire before we found a bed for them.“
Just these two hospitals have already had to send patients to Kansas, Colorado, Texas , Missouri and New Mexico – with the farthest being Denver, more than 700 miles away.
“We were already seeing the bed availably that was starting to decline about the same time that this COVID delta strain started to peak back up,” Terry said.
Officials say there were 973 Oklahomans hospitalized with COVID-19 on average over the past three days. Authorities also noted that there were 44 pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 included in that number.
That strain affects these hospitals – and bed availability – because of the space and resources COVID hospitalizations demand.
“When you admit a COVID patient, typically it’s not overnight,” Dr. Cabrera said. “The really sick ones —the ones that are going to the ICU — they will be in that ICU room for weeks. So there goes that room for a month plus.”
The Oklahoma State Department of Health says over 75% of COVID-19 patients hospitalized over the last 30 days are not vaccinated.