Shortage of beds hampers hospitals

February 25, 2002|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Emergency beds fill up more often at some Tri-State hospitals than others.

City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., was on "fly-by" status for about 16 hours on Feb. 12 and 13. All of the hospital's telemetry beds - used for cardiac monitoring - and critical care beds were filled. Incoming patients were diverted to other local hospitals.

"This is extremely rare," spokeswoman Teresa McCabe said at the time.

Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, a regional trauma center, has had periodic stretches of transferring patients to other beds within the hospital or diverting them to other hospitals.

On Wednesday, the hospital had a "red alert" and stopped accepting critical care patients transferred from other hospitals, said spokeswoman Maureen Theriault.


On Friday, the hospital was on alert again.

It's been about three weeks since Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick, Md., had an alert because its beds were full, spokesman Ken Coffey said.

Pam Holstein-Wallace, a spokeswoman for Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson, W.Va., said the last fly-by, or patient diversion, there was about three months ago.

"It really happens infrequently here," she said.

It's also unusual at War Memorial Hospital in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

"We normally do not do fly-bys" because the hospital is too small to have critical care beds, said Gail Hanline, a registered nurse in the emergency room. Patients requiring critical cardiac care usually are sent to other hospitals, she said.

Out of beds

About a year ago, Chambersburg Hospital in Chambersburg, Pa., had a lot of problems with bed capacity, Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. David Carlson said.

During some periods, the intensive care, medical and surgery units, emergency room and telemetry beds were full.

"We had no place to put people," he said.

The hospital got permission from the Pennsylvania Department of Health to temporarily use more beds. They were set up in the rehabilitation and transitional care units.

Carlson said the hospital opened 14 additional beds in May 2001 and hired about 30 more nurses.

"It has made a big difference," he said.

Most hospitals run short of staff before they run out of beds, he said.

Summit Health operates both Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals.

Waynesboro Hospital, which is licensed for 62 beds, compared with Chambersburg's 232, had similar problems last year on a smaller scale, Carlson said.

Common problem

Kathleen Wotring, chief nursing officer at City Hospital, said any particular hospital unit is subject to a bed deficiency.

"The thing that's important to put in perspective," she said, "is that every time we're on fly-by, it doesn't mean we automatically divert patients to other hospitals."

Decisions about diversions are made case-by-case, Wotring said.

Hospital officials agreed that bed shortages can be cyclical and part of the business.

Alerts are more likely in the winter because of flu and pneumonia cases, said Frederick Memorial's Coffey.

During flu season, "a lot of hospitals are filled," Wotring said.

"Business definitely picks up in the winter months," Carlson said, "but last year, it didn't seem to let up."

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