Nebraska Hospital Officials Warn of Even Longer Wait Times for Beds Due to COVID Surge

Hospital officials from across Nebraska on Monday said if the recent surge of COVID cases in the state continues, hospitals may be forced to make sacrifices in their coverage as patients could be waiting hours for beds or treatment.

As of Monday, 602 people are hospitalized due to COVID in the state, just shy of the 637 mark set in December, and the officials said the high number of hospitalizations combined with staffing shortages from staff positives or exposures is having a significant impact on their treatment capabilities.

The officials said due to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, Nebraska's case and hospitalization numbers could increase even more in the coming weeks.

"We could see a doubling of hospitalizations due to COVID in Nebraska over the next two to three weeks. That alone would overwhelm our healthcare system. But we're also facing some of the worst staffing challenges we've had during COVID," said Jeremy Nordquist, president of the Nebraska Hospital Association, according to The Associated Press.

Todd Consbruck, CEO of Avera St. Anthony's Hospital, said his hospital has seen patients waiting much longer than average to be transferred for treatment.

"There are times when we are seeing four, eight, 10 hours to find a bed for someone who needs intensive, ICU care or surgery in a larger community," Consbruck said.

Nebraska COVID Hospital Quality of Care
In this handout released by the U.S. Navy, Sailors assigned to the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) treat the first patient from Los Angeles medical facilities March 29, 2020. Nebraska hospital officials said Monday that the quality of care they can offer may be significantly impacted if the COVID surge in the state continues. U.S. Navy via Getty Images

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has soared over the past two weeks from 540 new cases per day on Dec. 25 to 3,152 new cases per day on Saturday.

That high number of virus hospitalizations, combined with all the other patients hospitals are treating, is already leading to long waits in emergency rooms across the state and delays in transferring patients from small community hospitals to larger ones that can offer specialized care.

The problem is that the state's larger hospitals are too busy to accept as many transfers as they used to, said Josie Abboud, president and CEO of Methodist Hospital and Methodist Women's Hospital in Omaha, even though hospitals have restricted surgeries to free up resources and make more room for critically ill patients.

The state reported 17,382 virus cases to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, up from 10,682 the week before and 4,956 before that.

"You certainly hope that we don't get to the point where we can't provide the care that we normally would provide to our community because that would be a tragedy for our community," Abboud said.

The Omicron variant spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains, and has already become dominant in many countries. It also more easily infects those who have been vaccinated or had previously been infected by prior versions of the virus.

However, early studies show that Omicron is less likely to cause severe illness than the previous Delta variant, and vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.