Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services secretary, discusses coming changes to the way Medicaid is provided to recipients in North Carolina. Courtesy of DHHS.

Hospitals can request a temporary increase in hospital beds for the most seriously affected patients as part of an effort to respond to the spread of COVID-19, a new coronavirus that can create potentially life-threatening breathing problems for some people.

COVID-19 NC news

Medical facilities usually have to undergo a licensing process that includes oversight from the N.C. Division of Health Service Regulation, a part of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, when seeking to increase the number of beds in their facilities.

“We are preparing for the potential need to expand capacity at our hospitals,” said DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen in a Thursday afternoon press conference. “Today we are going to be issuing some waivers that allow for additional bed capacity.”

The order will also allow hospitals to move those beds to where they are most needed to treat patients who are receiving treatment from COVID-19, awaiting test results for COVID-19 or who are relocated to accommodate other patients being treated for COVID-19, the waiver released Thursday says.

The temporary waiver of state regulations was authorized by Cohen and N.C. Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry. Hospitals still have to ask for the waiver in writing before increasing bed capacity. That request must include a description of the physical space that will be used and how long the increased capacity is expected to last.

Limited need for beds in NC so far

As of Thursday afternoon, state officials said no patients in North Carolina required acute medical care, nor was there any evidence of community transmission of the new coronavirus.

So far only CaroMont Regional Medical Center in Gastonia has asked for 10 additional beds, if needed, said Kelly Connor, a spokeswoman for DHHS.

As of Friday morning, there were 15 presumed positive or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina, according to DHHS.

On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Friday afternoon.

Nationwide, 36 people have died from complications related to COVID-19 as of Friday morning, the majority of them in Washington state.

For the latest on the coronavirus outlook in North Carolina, see Carolina Public Press’ daily status updates. For additional information about how to deal with coronavirus and resources from hospitals, schools and other organizations across the state, see the Carolina Public Press Resource Guide for Coronavirus in North Carolina. Additional articles about the situation in North Carolina can be found here.

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Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.

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