Alabama’s Healthcare System Isn’t Built to Withstand A COVID-19 Pandemic

Dakota Layton | March 28, 2020

As of today, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 103,321 cases of COVID-19 within the United States of America and they have also confirmed 1,668 deaths as a result of COVID-19. The Alabama Department of Public Health has confirmed that there are 694 cases in the state of Alabama. Only 3 deaths have been reported, but there have been 4,755 total tests administered as of today.

Alabama’s total estimated population is 4,908,621 people, so our readers may look at these statistics and think that the situation really isn’t that bad, but I would caution against that line of thought. The question on many Alabamian’s minds is, “Can our state’s healthcare system handle a massive outbreak of COVID-19?” The answer, unfortunately, isn’t very comforting.

The first concern is whether or not Alabama has enough hospital beds and has the required capacity to deal with a quick surge of patients in a short amount of time. The state of Alabama has nearly 15,000 hospital beds, but they are not proportionally distributed. According to Ramsey Archibald of AL.com, “Several parts of the state, especially rural areas, don’t have any hospitals at all, and others have a relatively small number of beds compared to their populations.”

Even more alarming, Archibald notes that, “Seven Alabama counties don’t have any hospital beds to speak of, according to data from the Alabama State Health Planning and Development Agency. More than half of the state’s 67 counties have fewer than 100 total hospital beds.”

“Twelve counties have fewer than 10 beds per 10,000 people, including a handful of counties in the Birmingham metropolitan area. Of the counties with at least some hospital beds, St. Clair, just northeast of Birmingham, has the smallest number of beds per person. St. Clair has just 4.8 beds per 10,000 people,” he continued.

According to Anna Claire Vollers of AL.com, “75% of Alabama’s 14,790 hospital beds are full” every day. ICU beds are a different story. There are only 1,700 in the entire state, 22 counties without any at all, and 44 counties that have less than 2 per 10,000 people.

A second concern is whether or not Alabama hospitals have enough ventilators to address the crisis. The president of the Alabama Hospital Association, Don Williamson stated in a news conference that Alabama’s hospitals have 1,344 ventilators and 550 of those are in use on a normal day. Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said that the state is attempting to purchase more ventilators and additional equipment, but conceded that every other state is trying to do the same.

Governor Kay Ivey told reporters this past Tuesday that some companies in the state showed interest in converting their manufacturing operations toward the creation of ventilators instead of their primary products. However, she carefully warned that it wouldn’t be an overnight transition.

“To completely change a model of business cannot happen overnight for big products like ventilators,” she stated.

Although the state government is trying to remedy the potential crisis, unfortunately, the combined facts I have examined point to a negative conclusion: if the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to rise at a rapid rate, Alabama hospitals will be overrun and the state’s medical system will be facing an unprecedented challenge that it wasn’t built nor prepared for.

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