SALT LAKE CITY – At the height of the coronavirus crisis in New York City last April, Utah sent 100 caregivers to help NYC hospitals cope with the unexpected surge of patients.
With skyrocketing infection rates threatening to overwhelm hospitals in Utah, nurses from New York are now here to return that favor.
Thirty-one nurses from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital recently arrived here, according to Dr. Katie Thomas, an intensive care physician and associate medical director at Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Those volunteers are now assisting frontline caregivers in ICUs, emergency departments and medical/surgical units throughout the Intermountain Healthcare system.
“We are incredibly grateful (to those nurses) for their support,” Thomas said at an Intermountain press conference welcoming the New Yorkers on Thursday. “They are generously and graciously helping us provide high levels of care to our patients. Equally important, those nurses are supporting our existing staff, allowing them to take better care of themselves and their families.”
The NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital is a non-profit academic medical center affiliated with Ivy League medical schools at Columbia and Cornell universities. The hospital was recently ranked as fourth-best in the United States and the best medical facility in the NYC metropolitan area by U.S. News & World Report. NewYork-Presbyterian is one of the largest hospitals in the world, with about 20,000 employees and 2,678 beds.
Thomas said that the availability of medical staff has been a critical issue throughout the pandemic in Utah, especially during the recent surge in infection rates.
State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn warned that Utah’s hospitals would eventually be overrun with COVID-19 patients as far back as June.
Dr. Ed Redd of the local Bear River Health Department seconded that view, saying that Dunn’s prediction was based on simple arithmetic, not rocket science.
“Utah has more than 3 million citizens and about 4,200 hospital beds, “ Redd explained during a presentation to the Cache County Council in June. “Half to three-quarters of those beds are usually occupied by patients due to routine medical emergencies and problems.”
But there were only 576 ICU beds in Utah hospitals at that time, with 280 of them occupied by non-coronavirus patients. Another 80 of those intensive-care beds were already occupied by COVID-19 patents, many of them on ventilators. That left only 200 ICU beds vacant statewide back in June.
Redd suggested that ICU capacity was adequate when Utah was only reporting about 200 new cases per day, many of which did not require hospitalization. But state health officials reported nearly 4,000 new cases on Thursday.
Like Utah’s other health care systems, Thomas said Intermountain has been accommodating ever increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients since then by reconfiguring pediatric wards for the treatment of adults and creating new intensive care units.
“But, as one of my colleagues says, beds don’t take care of patients, people do,” Thomas stressed. “As an ICU physician, I can confidently say that nurses are essential to the care we provide to patients. They are the heart of any hospital and especially of our intensive care units.”
Thomas explained that Intermountain Healthcare has been challenging its caregivers for months to “test their flexibility, their fatigue and their commitment to us and to their communities by working extra shifts and overtime. We are incredibly grateful to our staff that they continue to rise to that challenge.”
Recognizing that there are limits to their caregivers’ endurance, however, the hospital system also called for help from the NewYork-Presbyterian system and hired nearly 200 additional nurses from out-of-state.
Given their previous experience battling the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, nurse Natalie Torrance said that she and her colleagues from NewYork-Presbyterian sympathize with the stress, fear and fatigue that Utah medical professionals are feeling.
She also praised the growing relationship between the two hospital systems as a result of their collaborative efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.