As hospitals and ICUs fill, Stitt administration assures Oklahomans, “We do have a bed for you.”

Officials within the administration accused critics of fear mongering and using scare tactics.

  • Catherine Sweeney

As intensive care units run out of capacity and hospital administrators ring alarm bells, the Stitt administration has maintained that hospital capacity is not under threat, and that messaging otherwise is a tactic to scare Oklahomans.

Gov. Kevin Stitt conducted a briefing for the first time since October on Tuesday, where he joined his health commissioner and administrators from local hospitals in urging Oklahomans to do their part. Although their calls to action were similar, their depiction of the state’s hospital capacity varied widely.

“We want everyone to know, if you or your loved ones get sick, we have the capacity to take care of them,” Stitt said during the conference.

In an interview on KRMG radio last week*, Gov. Kevin Stitt said the hospital system is in solid shape.

“There’s a lot of folks that are fear mongering and telling Oklahomans we don’t have the hospital capacity. Simply not true,” Stitt said.

One of Stitt’s top health officials weighed in Monday on hospital capacity during an Oklahoma House of Representatives interim study on pandemic response. Oklahoma National Guard Lt. Col. Matt Stacy, who oversees the state’s surge plan, said that although the trends are concerning, hospitals can always begin cancelling elective procedures.

Stacy said that state officials have worked with hospital administrators and the Oklahoma Hospital Association to create the plan, but also on how to depict the situation publicly.

“I think you’re going to see some of the messaging change,” he said. “Instead of scare Oklahomans — right, which I think has been the tactic — instead it’s to encourage Oklahomans. Explain to them that we’re your health care system. We can treat you. We do have a bed for you. Maybe there will be delays in other things. Maybe there are things that are going to be pushed back, but there is a bed here for you, and you’re going to get treated.”

During the briefing the Stitt administration held on Tuesday, several hospital administrators spoke. They all touched on the ebb-and-flow nature of hospital and ICU figures, but they all also warned that without a change in trends, capacity issues are inevitable.

“I tell you this in all sincerity, Oklahoma,” said Integris Chief Medical Officer Julie Watson. “We are in trouble.”

She said that without increased mask use, hospitals will have to delay care, ratchet down services, and start making awful decisions.

“Our worst nightmare right now, for any one of us physicians or health care workers, is having to choose between a patient in a car accident and a patient with Covid,” she said. “An early cancer diagnosis and Covid. Surgery for a patient who needs it and Covid. Every single Oklahoman is important. We can make a difference and preserve resources for all patients by simply wearing a mask. We must prevent the preventable.”

In Tulsa, Mayor GT Bynum spoke during the city’s weekly briefing Tuesday, saying he hoped the news that Tulsa’s ICUs were full the night before would be a wake up call. And that although capacity is fluid, it’s having a real effect already.

“We had one city employee who contracted COVID-19, had just shy of a 106-degree fever and got turned away from two hospitals because his respiratory function wasn’t bad enough,” he said.

He talked about another city employee who faced a similar situation, but was finally admitted after he had developed pneumonia.

“That’s the threshold that our community is facing right now,” he said.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health releases a coronavirus data report nightly. As of Tuesday night’s report, 6 percent of the state’s staffed ICU beds were available — 57 of 954. That figure reflects all ICU beds filled by Covid and non-Covid patients. It also stated that a record number of Oklahomans were hospitalized with the coronavirus: 1,157, with 336 of them in the ICU.

Hospitalizations are what’s known as a lagging indicator. They tend to reflect what another number, case counts, did about two weeks before. Oklahoma’s case counts continue to grow. As of Monday, the 7-day average again broke a new record, surpassing 2,000 in one day.

* Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:31 a.m. Tuesday to correct an error. Gov. Kevin Stitt appeared on KRMG and discussed hospitalizations last week, not this week.