COVID-19 in Philly: City and suburban leaders call for ‘load balancing’ procedures for hospitals

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — Leaders of Philadelphia and the city’s collar counties called on Gov. Tom Wolf to implement “load balancing” procedures for patients and ventilators across the state before an expected surge in hospitalizations from the novel coronavirus later this month.

In a joint letter sent to the governor on Sunday, Mayor Jim Kenney and the heads of four county boards of commissioners said load balancing procedures would equalize and better cope with varying patient loads between hospitals, and help prevent a shortage of supplies to treat patients, such as ventilators.

“Given the resources available in the Commonwealth, planning to share patient load and resources in this way for a short period of time will do much to mitigate a potentially disastrous situation later this month,” the letter said.

The procedures would allow hospitals at or near capacity to transfer patients to hospitals with excess capacity. It would also allow hospitals to share staff and other resources as needed across the state.

The procedures are currently in place in New York and Michigan, the letter said.

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The peak for patients needing intensive care and ventilators was expected to hit the state on April 15, the county heads said in the letter citing one model for how the outbreak could evolve in the state.

The need for hospital beds was expected to peak days later on April 18, the letter said.

The need for beds in intensive-care units (ICU) in the state would “likely to exceed availability” by approximately 11% between April 10 and 20, according to the model. In the worst case scenario, the surge would exceed availability by a 2-to-1 margin.

Yet the letter warned that the estimates for ICU availability were most likely less than what the state actually needs to accommodate its residents and patients traveling to the region from overburdened hospital systems in New Jersey and New York.

In addition to Kenney, the letter was signed by Diane Ellis-Marseglia, chairwoman of the Bucks County Board of Commissioners; Marian Moskowitz, chairwoman of the Chester County Board of Commissioners; Brian Zidek, chairman of the Delaware County Council; and Valerie Arkoosh, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared