‘It is filling up:’ Nearly 1 in 5 NC hospitals at least 90 percent full, federal data show

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Nearly 1 in 5 hospitals across North Carolina responding to a weekly federal survey said they were at least 90 percent full during the most recent reporting period.

The data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which covers the seven-day period that ended Dec. 24, paints a sobering picture of the state’s hospital situation at this advanced stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CBS 17 News analyzed the data Tuesday, a day after two hospitals in Johnston County said they were at capacity in large part because of the growing number of COVID-19 patients.

The state Department of Health and Human Services reported a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations for the third straight day, with 3,377 patients in hospitals across the state.

Of the 106 hospitals that responded to the federal survey, 20 reported that at least 90 percent of their average daily adult inpatient beds were occupied from Dec. 18-24.

That number was just 14 during the first week of the month, but has been at either 19 or 20 for the past three weeks.

Three hospitals — Alamance Regional Medical Center in Burlington, The Outer Banks Hospital in Nags Head and Cone Memorial in Greensboro — were listed as being at 100 percent occupancy during that time span.

Among the hospitals in the CBS 17 viewing area with occupancy rates higher than 90 percent, according to the federal statistics: Vidant Edgecombe Hospital in Tarboro (98.4 percent), Wilson Medical Center (96 percent), Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford (93.8 percent) and Pam Specialty Hospital of Rocky Mount (92.3 percent).

Triangle hospitals had a little more room in their hospitals. The most crowded facility in Wake, Durham and Orange counties was WakeMed of Cary, which was at 90 percent full after averaging 153 occupied beds per day out of 170 reported beds over the seven-day period.

“At least in the Triangle, we do have some amount of bed capacity, but it is filling up,” said Dr. Joseph Rogers, the chief medical officer for Duke University Health System.

Duke University Hospital was at 87.7 percent of capacity for that week, with Duke Raleigh not far behind at 85.2 percent. WakeMed in Raleigh was at 83.4 percent.

Rogers said health leaders at Duke, anticipating a surge of patients earlier this year, developed contingency plans “to think about other-care venues” but they ultimately never were put into place.

“We went through this thought process in the spring and had a fairly significant plan already laid out,” Rogers said. “It’s just a question of trying to decide whether we need to implement it.”

North Carolina’s hospitals were 75 percent full Tuesday, according to statewide numbers published by DHHS, with 15,771 people hospitalized and 5,207 empty beds. More than 20 percent of those hospitalized are COVID-19 patients.

But the state doesn’t break its hospitalization numbers down any further than the eight regions — or, healthcare preparedness coalitions.

DHHS staff did not respond to emailed questions from CBS 17 News asking about the possibility of breaking those numbers down for each hospital.

The most crowded of those regions is the Capital Region — which includes Wake County along with the surrounding counties of Franklin, Johnston, Harnett and Lee. Hospitals there were 83 percent full, with just 197 of the 1,158 total beds in the region empty.

The least crowded is the region containing the 17 westernmost counties, where hospitals are just 64 percent full.