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UPMC Says Its Hospitals Are, 'Busy, But Not Overwhelmed'

Kailey Love
90.5 WESA
UPMC Mercy Hospital

UPMC leaders said Tuesday their health network is busy with the rise in COVID-19 cases, but not overwhelmed. In a press conference, senior vice president Leslie Davis said the network is redirecting staffing and equipment resources to hospitals as needed.

That picture of the pandemic in Pennsylvania is far more optimistic than the one painted by state officials Monday. Gov. Tom Wolf namechecked UPMC Altoona at a press conference, where nurses recently described strained conditions to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

But Davis said Tuesday that 60 additional nurses were hired at UPMC Altoona recently to meet needs there. She said 200 nurses have been added across the system to maintain adequate staffing. Some nurses were brought in from agencies while others increased their hours. Other staff members within the system voluntarily moved back into patient-facing roles.

In an effort to keep staffing levels up, UPMC is also reconsidering quarantine policies for workers who may have been exposed to the virus. Dr. Graham Snyder, UPMC’s medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology, said UPMC has already shortened the mandatory quarantine period from 14 days to 10 days.

“As we have more refined data we know that it’s unusual for somebody to develop symptoms as late as 14 days,” he said. The system is now looking into shortening their policy to seven days.

UPMC Jameson in New Castle, Pa. reported last week that it had run out of intensive care unit beds, according to the New Castle News. When asked about ICU capacity limits, Davis noted that the majority of COVID-19 patients do not require ICU care. She said 20% of UPMC’s total bed capacity is used by COVID-19 patients.

But community hospitals relying on their broader networks to treat COVID-19 patients leaves fewer resources across the state as flu season arrives, said state officials. Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine noted Monday that patients hospitalized with influenza often require the same resources as COVID-19 patients.

Davis pointed to the accelerated opening of a new intensive care unit at UPMC Mercy Hospital and clinical strategies that could shorten the length of hospital stay as examples other measures taken by UPMC to keep up with the surge of COVID-19 cases.

Officials also provided an update on UPMC’s vaccine distribution plans on Tuesday. Snyder said he is optimistic the system will have the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine distributed to all of its frontline health care workers by the end of January. The vaccine will be administered on a voluntary basis, he said.

Snyder expects UPMC to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shortly after it receives Pfizer’s. The Moderna vaccine will be prioritized for frontline workers and residents in long-term care facilities.

Snyder said vaccinations for the general public could still be months away.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.