A continued surge of COVID-19 patients has Bryan Health on the verge of hitting its capacity.
At midnight Thursday, the health system had 568 patients at its two hospital campuses. Its normal number of staffed inpatient beds is 572.
"We are definitely seeing a surge and a spread of this virus," said John Woodrich, CEO of Bryan Medical Center, noting that the midnight patient census was the highest he's ever seen it.
The number of inpatients with active COVID-19 cases actually declined Thursday to 76, down from 78 on Wednesday. There were a record 94 coronavirus patients in Lincoln hospitals Wednesday, although more than half of them were from outside Lancaster County. A week ago, that number was 62.
The surge in hospitalizations has come as cases have skyrocketed locally and in the state as a whole. Lancaster County set a weekly record with 894 cases last week, and already had 744 this week as of Thursday.
Bryan on Monday started reducing the number of elective surgeries requiring an overnight stay by 10%, and Woodrich said that "has been working well."
He said he does not anticipate Bryan will have to reduce surgeries further, at least for another week.
All this comes as the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announced the state had broken a single-day record for cases for the second straight day.
Nebraska reported 2,124 cases on Thursday, topping Wednesday's previous high of 1,828 cases. The state also surpassed its previous high for active hospitalizations with 720.
The total number of cases now stands at 78,012, while the death count rose to 674 after five more deaths were announced Thursday.
On a positive note, the state surpassed 1 million tests conducted since the pandemic began last spring. It has now test 1,000,025 people.
In the meantime, Bryan Health has created new beds and freed up other ones to help boost capacity.
Woodrich said Bryan has a joint venture with some doctors at its West Campus hospital and decided that it's "going to pause that" for a time to free up eight additional beds. He said this time of year also is a slow one for pediatric beds, so it's looking at converting some rooms for children into adult patient rooms.
"... But remember, just getting beds isn't the answer," he said, "because you also have to have the staff to staff those beds."
Woodrich said Bryan has added some traveling nurses, but there is a lot of mandatory and voluntary overtime being put in by nurses and other clinical staff members.
He said caring for COVID-19 patients and seeing some of them die is very hard on staff morale.
Woodrich said that just looking at how much COVID-19 deaths have increased in Lancaster County over the past couple of months — more than half of the 50 deaths have occurred in the past five weeks — "is an indication that this thing is really pretty serious and people are more severely ill."
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