Dr. Ashish Jha: more people dying at home because hospitals are full

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – Coronavirus deaths are on the rise in Rhode Island. One medical expert is sounding the alarm on a trend he’s seeing in hospitals locally and across the country that could be contributing to those deaths.

Brown University Dean of School of Public Health, Dr. Ashish Jha, says because hospitals are full and beds for critically ill are scarce, he believes patients who would’ve been admitted a few months ago, could be sent home now as beds are being saved for the sickest of the sick.

“I’m really worried about what’s happening with hospitals both in Rhode Island and across the country,” Dr. Jha said. “Just in terms of availability, when hospitals fill up it gets harder and harder for people to find care.”

Dr. Jha spent weeks combing through the data watching cases rise, but the number of hospitalizations not nearly matching what is expected.

“What we know is that you can take infections on a given day and you can predict how many people will need to be hospitalized 5, 7, 10 days later because we know how this disease works.”

In fact, he says the proportion of hospitalizations is actually falling and the deaths are growing.

“Essentially, they’re falling because as those patients are arriving at the emergency department, there are no beds for them,” Dr. Jha said. “So, they’re not getting hospitalized not because they’re not sick or because they don’t need it, but because there’s no place for them to go. Physicians are doing this. They’re not doing this because they want to, but they don’t really have any choice at this point. And we’re starting to see that in the data.”

Dr. Jha predicts about half the patients that would’ve been hospitalized in October are being sent home today and it’s not just COVID patients.

“If you have pneumonia, run of the mill pneumonia, it’s going to be harder to be hospitalized and you’re more likely to go home. If you have an infection, heart failure, other types of diabetes problems that might’ve landed you in a hospital, unless you’re critically ill, you’re probably going home.”

Lifespan said in a statement that they have not implemented any new policies that lower the standard for admitting patients to their hospitals.

Lifespan also says they encourage all residents to support Rhode Island Hospitals and health care workers by continuing to follow the two-week pause and remain vigilant about social distancing.

CNE responded stating they continue to use the same admission criteria for patients now as they did before the surge.

Dr. Paari Gopalakrishnan, Chief Medical Officer at Kent Hospital, said he did notice a new trend of fewer people showing up the hospital lately.

“During these last few weeks, we have seen a decrease in the number of people presenting to the ED for care, and are concerned that this lack of care may be contributing to the rise in deaths across the state, as people avoid hospitals during the surge,” Gopalakrishnan said.

Rhode Island also opened up two field hospitals for non-critical patients. We asked our local hospitals if that has freed up any room in the ER.

In a statement, CNE said they opened their field hospital to ensure they have the ability to care for all patients in the community; adding that the field hospital has left more hospital space available for patients with non-Covid related illnesses.

Lifespan stated they also opened their field hospital for the same reason– to have the ability to provide the same level of care as more and more patients need treatment.

While many will heal, Dr. Jha says a growing number are dying. Those dying are so close to the finish line. He believes the first Rhode Islander will get vaccinated in 10 to 12 days.

“The effect of this surge is being felt by everybody who gets sick,” Dr. Jha said. “So, it’s particularly important for people now to protect themselves not just from COVID, but also try and keep yourself healthy especially over the holidays because hospital beds are going to be hard to find.”

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Providence, Rhode Island