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St. Louis hospitals say state's capacity data leads to 'misunderstanding,' as they report their own

"I can assure you our hospitals are very, very full. Some ICUs in St. Louis are at capacity"
Credit: SLBJ
BJC HealthCare's flagship hospital, Barnes-Jewish, in the Central West End.

ST. LOUIS — It's been cited on social media in recent days: Data from the state of Missouri showing that a large number of hospital beds remain unused, even as Covid-19 cases surge.

That data led some to call into question recent urgent reports from local health systems that their facilities are rapidly filling up, endangering their ability to care for patients with Covid-19 and other health problems.

But the state data can lead to "misunderstanding on the part of some," said Stephanie Zoller Mueller, a spokeswoman for the St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force, a consortium of BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke's Hospital, the region's largest health systems.

"I can assure you our hospitals are very, very full," Zoller Mueller said. "Some ICUs in St. Louis are at capacity. I sit on the phone multiple times a day and can hear the strain and stress in the voices of our caregivers. It's heartbreaking."

As of Tuesday, for example, the state reported that overall remaining inpatient bed capacity stood at 35%. ICU bed remaining capacity was 29%. The state said it uses data from TeleTracking, a Pittsburgh data firm, and the National Healthcare Safety Network, an internet surveillance system managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By contrast, Zoller Mueller said as of Wednesday hospitals covered by the task force were at 84% capacity overall. The ICUs stood at 90% capacity, she said, adding that the numbers represent averages, with some systems and hospitals doing better than others. The task force on Wednesday also reported that hospitalizations continue to increase, with the seven-day moving average of hospital admissions rising from 124 to 125. Inpatient confirmed Covid-positive hospitalizations rose from 838 to 841, a record.

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