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COVID in Context: ICU capacity fluctuates day to day in Brazos County hospitals. Why?

Published: Jan. 11, 2021 at 10:43 AM CST
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - According to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, the bed capacity of intensive care units (ICUs) in the Brazos Valley fluctuates daily.

Between available beds and beds occupied both by COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, the total ICU bed count has ranged from less than 40 to more than 70--just within the past month.

Per data from Texas DSHS
Per data from Texas DSHS(KBTX)

Why does that happen?

All ICU beds in Trauma Service Area N, which includes most Brazos Valley counties, are located in Brazos County itself, at St. Joseph Health and Baylor Scott & White.

KBTX asked both hospital systems why the number of ICU beds changes day-to-day.

St. Joseph Health says daily changes happen because of the relative availability of staff. Factors that affect staff availability are shift variation, call-outs, and travel nurse scheduling.

The full statement is as follows:

“We have 42 beds total in the Bryan and College Station hospitals (36 in Bryan and 6 in College Station). We currently have 36 beds in Bryan because we have expanded our CCU capacity at Regional Hospital from 24 beds to 36 beds as a part of our surge plan. We can expand to an additional 6 ICU beds in College Station. In addition, we can expand our non-ICU areas as needed through our surge plan to take more non-critical patients in other units within the hospital. We do not have any ICU beds in our critical access hospitals in Caldwell, Madisonville and Navasota. They can however admit and care for covid patients who are not critical.

“The number of available beds varies because staffing availability determines the number of beds available at any given time. The more staff we have, the more we can open up additional surge beds to meet ICU care.

“Physical beds fluctuate very little. The number of beds we have can only increase according to our surge plan. The variation is related to staff and shifts each day. Capability due to staffing is fluid because of call outs and state agency availability. State agency is another term for travel nurses that come in as additional staff when we are short-staffed.”

Baylor Scott & White Health says their surge plan, currently in place, utilizes all available patient care space in their College Station hospital.

The full statement is as follows:

“Because this information is constantly changing, we refer news media to the state’s data as the best source of truth: on the Texas Department of State Health Services’ COVID-19 page, there is a link to Combined Hospital Data over Time by Trauma Service Area (TSA).

“As you know from previous news conferences, our ICU capacity in College Station is 16 beds. We do not have intensive care unit at our Brenham facility. In most cases, those needing in-patient care for COVID-19 infections are transferred from our facility in Brenham to another Baylor Scott & White facility for a higher level of care.

“To accommodate patients who are in need of intensive care, our surge plan includes the utilization of all available patient care space within our College Station hospital. In some cases, we may transfer patients between facilities within our healthcare systems in order to provide the most appropriate care.”

On Jan. 13, BSW expanded its explanation with the following statement:

“The number of ICU beds available fluctuates daily for several reasons.

“To accommodate patients who are in need of intensive care, our surge plan includes the utilization of all available patient care space within our College Station hospital. For example, when we needed additional intensive care beds, we use our surgical recovery beds as additional intensive care beds.”

Tune in for COVID in Context weekdays on Brazos Valley This Morning, 4:30-7 a.m. on KBTX.

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