More hospital beds are in use

Vaughn Golden/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — Hospital occupancy increased last week across the north country with some facilities reporting serious influxes of patients, including an uptick of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

For the week beginning Jan. 1, an average of 462.6 adult inpatient beds were in use out of 765.9 staffed beds available between the 13 hospitals in the north country, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The north country region encompasses Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Lewis, Franklin, Essex, Clinton and Hamilton counties.

Nine of the region’s hospitals are located in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

As of Tuesday, 117 people were hospitalized in the north country with COVID-19, 67 of whom are in the tri-county area.

Last week’s 60.4% average occupancy rate represents an uptick from the week prior, which showed occupancy at 55.2%, and is the highest that rate has been since the week beginning Dec. 11.

Both the average staffed capacity and average adult inpatient beds in use continue to change weekly.

Capacity continued to fall for the third week in a row, though far less significantly. Last week’s total average capacity was only about five beds lower than the week prior, though it’s about 39 beds less than when hospitals were at their peak historical capacity in mid-December. A decrease in this figure can represent decreases in staff available to tend to a bed should it be filled. They may also decrease as surge protocols are wound down aligning with occupancy.

Average beds in use increased again this week after four consecutive weeks of decreasing figures.

Two weeks ago, an average of 425.1 inpatient beds were in use in the north country. That figure increased by 37.5 last week, wiping out two weeks of declining numbers.

Last week, Lewis County General Hospital, Lowville, had to divert ambulances after the facility reached full capacity for several hours. According to HHS data, the hospital has a regular capacity of 25 beds, but that can surge up to 38 along with state-mandated plans in place to prepare for surge in COVID-19 patients.

An average of 22.6 beds were occupied last week, representing 90.4% occupancy without the surge capacity employed. At the time, 13 people from Lewis County were hospitalized with COVID-19. The state Department of Health said of capacity concerns that the facility remained below critical levels.

“The Department of Health is actively monitoring capacity,” DOH spokeswoman Jill Montag wrote in a statement last week. “Current indications are that there is sufficient capacity for patient care at Lewis County General Hospital. Hospitals are obligated to notify us if they believe occupancy may reach critical levels.”

Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown, the largest hospital in the north country, saw its third consecutive week of average inpatient beds in use increase, now surpassing all occupancy levels reported since September.

At the same time, the facility appears to be decreasing capacity after a build up in mid-December. Samaritan’s Director of Communication and Public Relations Leslie DiStefano said this decrease was likely due to staff taking vacation time during the holidays. As of last week, the facility had an average of 69.5% occupancy.

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