UI Hospitals and Clinics continue to struggle with inpatient increase, lack of beds

In a presentation to the state Board of Regents on Wednesday, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics said they are continuing to struggle with high numbers of inpatients, from COVID-19 and other causes.


Tate Hildyard

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are seen on Tuesday, June 23, 2020.

Kate Perez, News Reporter

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics administrators revealed they continue to struggle with high inpatient numbers, from COVID-19 and other causes, in a presentation to the state Board of Regents Wednesday.

Suresh Gunasekaran, associate vice president of UI Health Care and the chief executive officer of UI Hospitals and Clinics, said the number of patients and emergency transfers from May-June are higher than pre-COVID-19 levels.

Gunasekaran added that the number of UIHC admissions through the emergency department of May-July are also higher than pre-COVID-19 levels, but are beginning to decrease.

“We continue to get a significant transfer volume into UIHC, [and] it is not just for COVID,” Gunasekaran said. “As other hospitals are experiencing staffing issues, as they’re experiencing outbreaks, they are transferring all levels of care to us.”

The patients that are transferred to UIHC facilities, especially COVID-19 patients, are more difficult to treat than normal patients, Gunasekaran said.

“The patients that get sent to us tend to be very, very complex, tend to need ICU care, tend to have multi-system disease outside of COVID, and are staying in bed for a long time,” Gunasekaran said.

The high numbers of patients are creating backups regarding the number of beds available for both transfer patients and regular patients, he said. Gunasekaran said patients are waiting in other Iowa hospitals to be transported to UIHC.

“What we’re talking about now is on a regular basis 95, 96, 97 percent occupancy, for every patient getting discharged today, we’ve got more than one patient waiting on that bed,” Gunasekaran said.

The high number of COVID-19 patients being treated at UI Hospitals and Clinics are stressing the system, as the patients stay longer and need more significant care, Gunasekaran said.

The number of patients in the Stead Family Children’s Hospital is also increasing, as the average daily number in June 2021 neared the peak from September through October of 2020. Gunasekaran said the average number of daily inpatients has climbed to over 90 percent of capacity.

“We are having significant respiratory illness [rates] among children, and it’s being hospitalized,” Gunasekaran said. “Within Iowa, there are not too many pediatric ICU beds in the state outside of neonatal ICU, and so again, serving a purpose as a referral center for the entire state, we are filling up pretty fast.”

The regents approved the construction of a new UIHC hospital in North Liberty last week. The project will have inpatient beds and operating rooms with a $395 million proposed budget.

UIHC has created a surge plan for the expected increase in need of hospital beds for the Iowa City UIHC location, and they are adding additional staffing, but still are troubled by the census, Gunasekaran said.

“We are very concerned that we’re already at this level of occupancy and it’s only September. By the time we get to November in December we anticipate that it will be exciting,” Gunasekaran said.