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ICU Intermountain nurses thanksgiving super spreader, Utah hospital ICUs expected to be at max capacity for the next few months
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Intermountain Healthcare adding 200 more nurses

SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah continues to see a surge in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Intermountain Healthcare is calling in more nurses to help.

Intermountain said it is are hiring nearly 200 traveling nurses to keep staffing levels up across its hospital system. And 31 of those nurses are here from New York-Presbyterian Hospital. They are here returning the favor after Intermountain sent nurses to New York City to help with its surge in April. 

Nurses from New York’s Northwell Health System were also here in August.

Intermountain’s hospital system is also adding ICU and medical/surgical beds, and allocating resources to optimize facilities. They say it’s part of their surge plan they developed more than eight months ago.

Utah’s surging case counts

The Utah Department of Health said there are now 446 Utah patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19. More than 40% of those hospitalized patients are in ICUs.

During the spike in cases during the past two months, the Health Department reported a 400% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

The ICUs at Utah’s 16 main hospitals that are considered referral centers for patients with COVID-19 are now on the cusp of being functionally outstaffed of ICU beds. Right now, they are at 82% utilization. 

“That’s really getting to the point where we’re going to have a significant problem on our hands,” said Tom Hudachko, director of communications for the Utah Department of Health. “Once we start to see that reaching 85 to 87 percent, we’ve essentially maxed out because even though you’re not at 100%, it becomes an issue of staffing as well.” 

Dr. Todd Vento, an infectious disease physician at Intermountain Healthcare, said that if trends don’t start decreasing, medical staff may have to move to crisis standards of care.

“Pretty soon, you actually have to start looking at the possibility that you will not be able to provide that level of care for someone who possibly is dying because it will take so many resources — that it will take away from one, two, three other patients,” he said.

During one of Utah’s last spikes in COVID-19 cases when ICU utilization was at 77%, Dr. Mark Briesacher, chief physician executive at Intermountain Healthcare, said the issue always comes back to having enough trained professionals.

“Beds don’t treat people,” he said. “People treat people.”

During a Zoom news conference on Thursday morning, doctors, and nurses will discuss Intermountain’s surge plans. Nurses from New York will also discuss what it’s like working in the ICU caring for COVID-19 patients and why they are in Utah to help. You can watch that news conference below.