Dixie Regional sees more ICU patients than ever before in hospital’s history, officials say

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ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4 News) — Intermountain Healthcare Dixie Regional Medical Center is caring for more patients in its intensive care unit than the southern Utah hospital has ever experienced in its history, according to hospital leaders.

In a press conference with local reporters Monday afternoon, Dixie Regional Medical Director Dr. Patrick Carroll spoke alongside ICU nurse Rhiannon Wanlass to describe the extremely limited staffing and call on the community to provide much-needed support.

“I don’t want anybody to be afraid, but I do want people to respect COVID-19,” Carroll said. “It’s real, and it’s harming people. It doesn’t have to.”

While Dr. Carroll said he’s thankful for those who celebrated Thanksgiving within their immediate households only, he is anticipating a spike in cases and hospitalizations following the holiday.

As southwestern Utah continues to see COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spike, Carroll says the hospital may be forced into crisis care if staff don’t see a significant change in the current trends. ICU nurse Rhiannon Wanlass says the possibility of yet another surge is something she “won’t even entertain.”

“Sometimes when I get done with my 12-hour shift, I don’t know if I can come back and do it again,” Wanlass expressed through tears. “It’s so hard, and to worry about it getting even worse, it’s something most of us won’t even entertain. We’re focusing on one shift at a time.”

Wanlass said many ICU nurses are working five, 12-hour shifts each week alongside three or four additional traveling nurses on each shift — still, she says their staff are stretched too thin.

Dixie Regional officials explained that they are normally in the conventional care stage when there is not a pandemic and resources are staff are available. Over the past several months, the facility has been in and out of the contingency care stage, when staff are short on either staff, space, or supplies. While the hospital says it has plenty of space and supplies, staffing remains the limiting factor.

While it is not there yet, the southern Utah hospital is trending towards crisis care that would be provided under critically overwhelmed conditions. In that case, officials say the BLU-MED tents may need to be occupied and the most difficult decisions regarding rationing care may need to be made.

Amid cold and flu season that normally brings a fuller, sometimes full ICU, Dr. Carroll says Dixie Regional is still operating within a surge ICU. In fact, he says their COVID-patients alone would nearly fill the normal ICU with 32 beds.

“We are averaging about 20 COVID-positive patients in the ICU in the past 7 days, which is more than half of our ICU,” Carroll said. “It’s about 60% of the ICU on average for the past seven days.”

“We need the community’s support,” Wanlass said.

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