NCDHHS adds COVID-specific hospital bed data to dashboard

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, speaks during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Photo via NC Dept. of Public Safety

RALEIGH — On Monday, July 20, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) added additional layers of information about hospital capacity and hospitalization trends, both statewide and broken down by region. The new hospitalization data is intended to provide additional insight into North Carolina’s hospital capacity in the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The dashboard has been used for reporting high-level statewide data on hospital capacity, including the number of people currently hospitalized, utilization of inpatient and Intensive Care Unit beds, and ventilator availability, since it was launched in March.

New hospitalization-related indicators added to the dashboard include hospitalizations by regions, trends in inpatient and ICU bed utilization over time, and a breakdown of hospitalizations by suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases. NCDHHS gets the information daily from hospitals across North Carolina.

Some of the additional items NCDHHS has added include case and death counts searchable by county and ZIP code, case counts by date reported or date of specimen collection, and a county map of ongoing outbreaks in congregate living settings.

North State Journal emailed NCDHHS after the Council of State meeting on Friday, May 22, where NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said the dashboard data on the agency’s website did not distinguish between COVID and non-COVID patients in terms of the number of hospital beds currently being used. On Tuesday, May 26, communications manager Kelly Haight Connor said that was correct and that at the time, both the graph of “currently hospitalized” and hospitalizations in reporting hospitals showed total beds in use and available. “This allows us to see the capacity of the hospitals to treat all patients,” Connor said in the email.

In March, following the availability of hospitalizations, NSJ made public records requests for all documents used to compile the number of hospitalizations and hospital beds available. In March, worst-case-scenario models showed peak hospitalization at 7,987. The most single-day hospitalizations to date has been 1,179, on July 21. NCDHHS has not had 100% of hospitals report, with a spokeswoman saying that the hospitals not reporting daily were generally among the smaller ones in the state.

In the first two days of the newly reported data, 18.7% of ICU beds in use are from adult COVID-19 patients.

The dashboard’s eight regions have been used since 2002, when it was established to facilitate and support local and regional partners in developing the following capabilities: foundation for healthcare and medical readiness, healthcare and medical response coordination, continuity of healthcare service delivery, and medical surge.

Last week during a briefing with Cohen, NSJ asked about instances of patients hospitalized for unrelated reasons, such as elective surgeries, and being tested for COVID-19. Cohen said these types of instances were low.

“I keep hearing the ‘there’s hospitalizations with unrelated surgeries.’ That prevalence is extremely low. I’d encourage folks in the media to get in touch with some of our hospitals in the Charlotte area who are seeing lots of cases of folks there with COVID-19. Now, we are not in place where we need to go into surge capacity, but this is not just incidental findings,” Cohen responded.

While saying those instances were low, Cohen did not specify a percentage for those cases, and less than a week later, the additional data was then added to the state’s dashboard.

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Matt Mercer is the editor in chief of North State Journal and can be reached at [email protected].