Oklahoma doctors called 40 hospitals to find an ICU bed for a COVID-19 patient with internal bleeding. None of them had space and he died.

·3 min read
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A doctor checks the vital signs of a patient at the Intensive Care Unit of Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center in Tarzana, California on January 3, 2021. Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images
  • A 69-year-old man in Oklahoma died of COVID-19 after there were no available ICU beds to take him in.

  • The man, Johnnie Novotny, had developed a hematoma while hospitalized and had to be transferred to another ICU bed for a surgical procedure.

  • Forty hospitals across four states said they did not have an available ICU bed for him.

Doctors in Oklahoma called dozens of hospitals in and out of the state to find one available ICU bed for a 69-year-old man with COVID-19.

Of the 40 hospitals they called, they couldn't find a single one available, the Washington Post reported.

Johnnie Novotny developed a hematoma while hospitalized for COVID-19. Doctors scrambled to find him an available ICU bed that would offer him more specialized care than the hospital could provide.

As Matthew Payne, his doctor, made calls to hospitals both nearby and miles away, Novotny began to feel more and more anxious, the Post reported. He started panicking and removing the tubes connected to his body and trying to get off his ventilator. He was lonely and he felt hopeless, according to the Post.

When he developed a hematoma, Payne and other doctors at Stillwater Medical Center in Oklahoma knew they didn't have the required specialist who could perform the procedure he needed.

They had 48 hours to find an ICU bed in a hospital with a doctor who was qualified to perform the surgery. Without the transfer, Novotny would die, the Post reported.

"You feel like you're on an island, and no one's looking to send out search-and-rescue planes to save you," Payne told the Post. "The case managers are tossing messages in a bottle, and no one is there to pick those up."

Payne and other doctors widened their search, calling hospitals in Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas. As they received no after no from each hospital, Novotny's blood pressure plummeted. The hematoma was swelling up and doctors were running out of time to save his life, the Post reported.

Family members kept hoping for a miracle.

But every hospital they called across four states said they didn't have space to take in Novotny.

"They were absolutely desperate, hoping against hope something might have changed," Payne said. "You basically have to be the dream-stealer and tell them this isn't working and, at this point, it is truly hopeless. We can't get him transferred out."

Novotny, who was unvaccinated, died on August 8.

Oklahoma hospitals, many overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, have been facing shortages in resources and staff for months. In the summer, the Delta variant spread rapidly across the state, bringing all-time highs to Oklahoma's COVID-19 case count.

About 48% of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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