Alabama Hospital Association head warns of deteriorating situation, potentially disastrous January


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Alabama is averaging about 2,800 new COVID-19 cases a day. The state is also seeing its COVID-19 hospitalizations continuing to break new records, including more than 2,000 patients today.

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said the case volume and the pressure it puts on short-staffed hospitals could lead to disaster by January.

“Things are deteriorating, I think, fairly rapidly,” he said. “Last week we had several days over 1,800 patients in hospitals, yesterday we went over 1,900, obviously that’s the first time that’s happened.”

They can find more beds, Williamson said, but with COVID-19 patients, far more nurses are needed.

“The challenge is staffing,” he said. “And I’m really worried about the staffing. We started in Alabama with a shortage of staff before COVID, then COVID comes along and COVID patients are just more labor-intensive.”

On a regular ward, you may able to take care of 10 to 12 patients with two nurses. If those are COVID patients, instead of two to three nurses taking care of 10 to 12 patients, you may need four to five nurses to care of the same number of patients. In the ICU, it’s about one nurse for every patient with COVID.

“So that exacerbates the shortage. And then add to that, we have hospitals with a significant number of staff now, who are out with COVID.”

As the virus reaches community spread levels, Williamson expects things to get worse.

“And with nothing clearly out there to break this ongoing cycle, I would expect us to be well over 2,000 (patients) somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 before Christmas, and then we have Christmas and New Year’s,” Williamson said. “And I think, frankly I think January has the potential of being an absolute disaster. So things are very, very bleak, I fear they’re going to get bleaker before they get a lot better.”

Williamson also provided a snapshot of what Alabama hospitals are dealing with — there are fewer than 200 ICU beds available in the state, meaning there is remaining capacity of about 11%. Thirty-five percent of the ICU patients in Alabama have COVID-19 and 22% of all hospital patients in Alabama have COVID-19.

Williamson also cautioned that this all taking place before the expected post-Thanksgiving surge of cases. He expects that surge to begin later this week.

Dr. Williamson said a vaccine will ultimately solve the pandemic — but, he said — the U.S. is months away from the vaccine being used in sufficient amounts to limit community spread of the virus.

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