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Does Med City have enough hospital beds?

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I read that the United States has some 925,000 hospital beds, and that the pandemic will overrun those beds. Med City has a few hospital beds. How many? Will they be enough?

It took a few days for Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center to answer these questions, and the answers still leave that question less than fully satisfied.

Mayo Clinic spokesman Bob Nellis told one of my helpers that, between Methodist and Saint Marys hospitals, the World Famous has 1,285 hospital beds. Other sources offer widely different totals for Rochester. The state Department of Health, for example, says that Mayo has 2,059 hospital beds, plus 89 bassinets. I'll take Nellis' number for accurate, though.

The nonprofit news organization ProPublica (more on them later) estimates 1,840 hospital beds in Rochester. Sixty-one of those are at OMC.

But it stands to reason that both health care centers have plans to extend capacity somehow if the need arises. Barb Sorensen, spokeswoman for OMC, told my helper that that is, in fact, the case. So how many beds are ultimately possible for OMC? "That is internal," Sorensen said.

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Olmsted County Public Health has an emergency pandemic plan that involves Mayo and OMC and hospital beds, but as of press time, I was not able to get any information about that plan from public health.

Back to ProPublica. It has an online resource that attempts to show how different areas of the country are equipped with beds to handle the pandemic under various scenarios of infection rate and duration. I'll have a link to ProPublica's resource with my article online.

ProPublica estimates that about two-thirds of Rochester's hospital beds are already filled by hospital patients with other needs at any given time. Nellis, the Mayo spokesman, says that percentage changes from day to day, and can vary somewhat widely. I don't see any reason not to use ProPublica's estimate. You have to start somewhere.

Looking at the report, it really makes the case for "flattening the curve," health experts' current approach to this public health emergency. If the duration of the pandemic can be spread out to 18 months -- as the federal government's plan now says it will be -- then Rochester has enough hospital beds, provided that the infection rate is limited to 40% or lower. Again, that's according to ProPublica's numbers.

But if the duration is narrowed to 12 months, then we'll run out of enough beds for people at 40%. And if the infection rate hits 60%, we'll also run out of beds.

A view of the national maps across these various scenarios tells me that, compared to most places, Med City is pretty well-off. Worth noting that a hospital bed isn't all you need -- you've also got to have medical equipment and trained, compassionate staff to attend to the people in those beds, and we're also fortunate to have many of those.

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