WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — As coronavirus cases rise rapidly, hospitals are hitting maximum capacity.
President Trump announced Tuesday FEMA will build two field hospitals in Louisiana, and even more beds will become available to struggling states due to sweeping regulatory changes at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“About three weeks ago, we had one case in Louisiana,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA. “Now, we probably have 4,500 cases with a few hundred people dead… it’s going to help us tremendously.”
Under the new temporary federal rules, overwhelmed hospitals will be able to transfer patients who are not suffering from the virus to facilities like outpatient surgery centers. That will open up thousands of additional beds and reduce the risk of infecting those patients.
Cassidy, a physician himself, said the centers also have a key resource his state and others desperately need.
“Some of these outpatient hospitals will have ventilators or anesthesia machines, which can function as a ventilator,” Cassidy said.
However, these temporary rules also highlight another issue: a shortage of ICU nurses.
“We can build more ICU beds but staffing them is a challenge,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA.
Kennedy said more states will have to look at loosening licensing requirements, asking former ICU nurses to come out of retirement and potentially training non-ICU nurses for the job.
Rep. French Hill, R-AR, said states may also shorten training programs.
“We’ve talked about the new medical graduates that are not yet licensed, pressing them into service here this spring,” Hill said.
Arkansas has not seen the same level of cases as Louisiana, but Hill said the state’s healthcare providers have all been coordinating on what the surge capacity is in their own hospitals and weighing potential offsite options, like hotels or hospitals that have recently closed, to help with the demand if needed.
More than a dozen states had requested waivers from CMS to turn facilities into makeshift hospitals. The CMS announcement means other states won’t have to apply for waivers.