IOWA CITY — The CEO of the state’s largest hospital says if the number of Iowans testing positive for Covid continues to accelerate, he expects to implement the next phase of a “surge” plan — and expand the Iowa City hospital’s ability to accept more patients.
“We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the state’s needs,” Suresh Gunasekaran, the CEO of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, told members of the State Board of Regents today.
The hospital’s intensive care unit has already been expanded as part of the first phase of dealing with a surge in Covid patients. The Covid patient count in the hospital earlier today was 93, a record, but Gunasekaran said there are still open beds.
“The reason we make these changes in advance, the reason we create this capacity in advance is because we don’t want, when other communities get overwhelmed, for us not to be able to take their patients,” Gunasekaran said. “I’m not going to list all of the different communities, but I will tell you on a daily basis individual rural hospitals hit their maximum and immediately call us and we take the patients.”
Gunasekaran said “hundreds of hospitalizations” from the Iowa City area have been avoided through expansion of the hospital’s testing clinic. The local clinic has the capacity to run a thousand tests a day and often provides results within 6-8 hours, so Covid-positive patients get assessed earlier and get treatment earlier.
“When you compare our region to other regions, the rate of hospitalizations for their positive-tested patients are so much higher than we and if we didn’t have this resource outside of the hospital, I really do think UIHC would have been overwhelmed long ago,” he said, “with great consequence to the health care system in Iowa.”
The hospital was recently featured on NBC News after a man from central Missouri was flown all the way to Iowa City for life-saving emergency brain surgery. Gunasekaran said that shows the hospital’s surge plan is working.
“The truth of it today at UIHC, regardless of what’s going on, we continue to create capacity and there are open beds today at UIHC. We are not overwhelmed,” Gunasekaran said, “but if we had not been working on creating this additional capacity, we would be full.”
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics — the UIHC — has expanded its intensive care unit to 116 beds and, if conditions worsen, the ICU may expand to 200 beds. Tonight, hospitals across the state are caring for more than 1500 Covid patients and 286 of those patients are in an intensive care unit.