Princeton Medical Center reaches critical care capacity over past several days, still accepts patients

A sign outside the Princeton Medical Center in Plainsboro thanks healthcare workers.

By contributor Marc Monseau

Over the past two weeks, the Princeton Medical Center has reached the licensed patient capacity for its critical care unit numerous times, in large part due to a surge of patients related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

But even when the Princeton Medical Center does reach its licensed capacity, officials from the company that runs the Plainsboro-based hospital, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, say the hospital is still accepting patients in need of critical care thanks to extra bed space added as part of preparations for the pandemic.

Every four hours, the Princeton Medical Center reports its critical care capacity to a database managed by the State of New Jersey that is used by emergency services to determine which hospitals have space for patients, a spokesman for Penn Medicine Princeton Health said. As the caseload in critical care has increased, the Princeton Medical Center has been on “divert status” regularly in recent days. The situation fluctuates regularly based on demand. As of press time Saturday evening, the Princeton Medical Center was not on critical care divert status, but it was earlier in the day on Saturday.

“When we reach 24 patients in critical care, we go to divert status,” Penn Medicine Princeton Health spokesperson Andrew Williams said. “Our understanding is that EMS crews will continue to transport patients to the nearest emergency department, regardless of whether that hospital is on critical care divert status.”

Though the Princeton Medical Center has a licensed capacity of 24 critical care beds, the hospital now has a total of 32 beds available for patients requiring critical care.

As part of preparations to meet anticipated demand during the COVID-19 outbreak, the critical care capacity at the Princeton Medical Center was expanded by converting part of a post-operative care unit that would receive little use during the pandemic since elective procedures have been suspended. As a result, the hospital is still able to accept critical care patients.

The additional critical care capacity was coordinated with and approved by the state, Williams said. The hospital’s divert status, however, does not take into account the extra eight beds and to date, the Princeton Medical Center has not changed its reporting protocol, Williams said in an e-mail.

If it becomes necessary, Princeton Health has contingency plans to add more critical care beds, Williams said.

The increased demand for critical care is in large part due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Williams said that not all patients in the critical care unit are COVID-19 positive, and that most of the patients being treated for the coronavirus at the Princeton Medical Center do not require critical care and are being treated in other units.

Penn Medicine Princeton Health officials would not disclose the number of COVID-19 patients currently undergoing treatment at the Princeton Medical Center. The hospital has 231 patient rooms, plus 14 rooms in its neonatal care unit.