Utah doctors report increasing COVID-19 cases, strained ICUs, staff leaving

Oct 14, 2021, 5:00 AM


University of Utah Health workers treat patients inside the medical intensive care unit at University of Utah Hospital on Friday, July 30, 2021. Photo credit: Charlie Ehlert, University of Utah Health Care

SALT LAKE CITY — Doctors in Utah say they’re seeing as many COVID-19 patients as they did during the height of the pandemic.  But they have less capacity to treat them.  They also say Utah does not seem to be following the national trend which shows new cases dropping by more than 30%.

“The majority of that decline is in the southeast, ” said Chief Medical Operations Officer for University of Utah Health, Dr. Russell Vinik.  “As you move further west to states like Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, the story isn’t as promising.” 

Vinik said within their own healthcare system, they’ve seen a gradual increase in the number of new cases,  And that typically shows in state data within a week or two. 

ICU Strain

Vitnik said on average, there are about 600 COVID patients in Utah hospitals.  He said  about 230 of those people are in intensive care units.  At the University of Utah, he said about one-third of their ICU beds are filled by COVID patients. 

But at rural hospitals, COVID-19 patients are filling about half of the beds. That’s putting new strains on an already stressed system.   

“Smaller communities are suffering,” said Dr. Elizabeth Middleton, an Assistant professor of medicine, and Associate Director of Medical Intensive care at University of Utah Health.   

“There are delays in patients coming to us, and they become sicker in that period of time,” said Middleton.  “So our ability to intervene within a short, early window, is significantly limited.”  Middleton said they’re only seeing the sickest of patients, and that puts a bigger strain on patients and caretakers alike. 

She said at U. Med. they’re typically treating 30 or more COVID-19 patients in a unit designed for 25.

Fewer caregivers

“We don’t have nearly the staff to take care of these patients as we did back in December of last year,” said Vinik. 

He said there are several reasons why.  First, last year, they were able to draw staff from other departments that were less busy at the time.  Second, more workers are quitting. 

“People are leaving the workforce. And that’s not just in healthcare, but it’s very pronounced in healthcare,” Vinik said. 

The third reason is hospitals, that receive federal dollars for staffing, are now competing with contract nurses and other staffing. 

“And so we see some hospitals  offering signing bonuses for $20,000 and paying $300 an hour for nursing.” He said that creates a significant incentive for people to leave, and go to other states and hospitals.

Ripple effect

The staff at U. Med is doing their best to treat all patients, but Vinik said there have been some delays.  For example, he said people have had to wait up to 12 or 24 hours in some cases for COVID-19 patients to get a bed.  And, as a regional hospital, he said  U. Med accepts patients from Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada. 

At the same time, Vinik said they don’t want anybody to put off critical care. “Please, please come to the hospital,” Vinik said. “We will take care of you.  We will take care of everybody.”  He said there should never be a question of people being turned away.

However, for elective procedures, Vinik said they have to decide on a daily basis how many beds they can use.  He said they make those decisions about 48-hours out.  

Holiday worries 

As winter and the holidays approach, U. Med is urging more people to get vaccinated. 

“This is a preventable disease,” said Middleton.  She said the vast majority of seriously ill patients in her ICU are not vaccinated with some telling her they were more afraid of the vaccine than they were of COVID-19. 

“I wish there was a way to break through and show them that the possible injury caused by COVID is so much worse,” she said. “I have not taken care of one patient who’s had a complication from the vaccine,” Middleton said.  “But there have been lots and lots of COVID patients.  I’ve seen terrible things because of that.”


We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

All News

FILE - Simone Biles and the U.S. women celebrate as the 2024 team is named at the United States Gym...

Mary Culbertson, KSLTV

How you can get in on the 2034 Olympic announcement party

As the anticipated decision by the Olympic Committee is approaching here are the places to watch and listen to the announcement.

9 hours ago

Utah State Officially Terminates Football Coach Blake Anderson...


Utah State Officially Terminates Football Coach Blake Anderson

Utah State terminates head football coach Blake Anderson after notifying him of their intent to do so early this month. 

10 hours ago

long covid clinic patient in utah...

Adam Small

U of U long COVID clinic shares findings after three years of seeing patients

The Long COVID Clinic in Utah has treated more than 3,000 patients over the last three years according to the clinic's medical director.

10 hours ago

Members of the International Olympic Committee’s Future Host Commission, IOC, U.S. Olympic & Para...

Don Brinkerhoff

Call for 2034 Winter Olympic Games volunteers has begun

The non-profit organization, The Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation is recruiting volunteers for the 2034 Winter Olympic Games. Some other organizations have started to do the same.

12 hours ago

A billboard commemorating Julia Reagan...

Jessica Lowell

One last love note: 360 billboards of Julia Reagan stand in her honor across the country

You may have noticed some billboards commemorating Julia Reagan recently. They're one final love note from her husband of 50 years

14 hours ago

Three men arrested at the Salt Lake International Airport in connection with a coordinated carjacki...

Eric Cabrera

LISTEN: Thieves using modern tech to steal cars

A longtime master tech said tools seen recently at the airport mirrors methods car thieves use to intercept garage door signals.

14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

A young woman smiles while reading the menu at a lakeside restaurant, enjoying the panoramic view o...

Bear Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau

The best restaurants to try in Bear Lake

Save this guide to the best restaurants in Bear Lake when you need to find a place to dine during your next visit.

Female leg stepping on weigh scales. Healthy lifestyle, food and sport concept....

Health Utah

Sustainable weight loss: the science-backed way to achieve it

Learn more about Debbie's weight loss journey with Health Utah, who have a unique weight loss philosophy for success.

Underwater shot of the fisherman holding the fish...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Your Bear Lake fishing guide

Bear Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. By preparing ahead of time, you might go home with a big catch!

A group of people cut a purple ribbon...


Comcast announces major fiber network expansion in Utah

Comcast's commitment to delivering extensive coverage signifies a monumental leap toward a digitally empowered future for Utahns.

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

Utah doctors report increasing COVID-19 cases, strained ICUs, staff leaving