INTEGRIS Health on Tuesday announced it would open another campus to COVID-19 patients. Photo courtesy of News9

Amid a surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, an Oklahoma City hospital on Tuesday increased its capacity to treat patients with the disease.

For the first time since the pandemic started, INTEGRIS Health on Tuesday opened its Portland Avenue campus in Oklahoma City to care for COVID patients as other locations near capacity to treat COVID and non-COVID patients. The facility will start with 40 beds and hospital officials will reevaluate if more are needed, a spokeswoman told The Frontier in an email.

On Tuesday, INTEGRIS Health had 95 patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 throughout the hospital system, spokeswoman Brooke Cayot said. Of those, 50 were at the Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City.

“As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rapidly increase across the state, the N.W. Expressway campus of INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center is experiencing capacity constraints,” Cayot said.

On Tuesday, the state reported 458 coronavirus hospitalizations across the state, up 32 patients from the day before. Since June 19, hospitalizations have increased by about 132 percent.

New cases of the coronavirus in Oklahoma have soared over the last few weeks. The state reported its largest caseload yet on Tuesday with 858.

In April, the state partnered with INTEGRIS’ Portland campus for its “Level 2 Surge Plan,” part of the state’s emergency response plan to the pandemic. The hospital was to serve as a safety net if other hospitals in the Oklahoma City metro area reached 40 percent surge capacity of COVID patients.

The other overflow safety net hospital was OSU Medical Center in Tulsa. The state terminated its lease with INTEGRIS effective June 30, Cayot said.

“Given that the course of COVID-19 could not be predicted, INTEGRIS Health provided the state with a ‘reactivation option’ they could exercise anytime through the end of the year,” she said in the email.

A new agreement has yet to be reached with the state, Cayot said. She did not respond to a question about whether the campus would receive patients from other hospitals.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health did not respond to a message from The Frontier on Tuesday asking about the agreement.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for OU Medicine, which operates seven hospitals in the Oklahoma City metro area, said on Tuesday that while facilities have recently seen an increase of COVID patients, they are not at capacity or diverting patients.

LaWanna Halstead, vice president of quality & clinical initiatives for the Oklahoma Hospital Association, said though the association and hospitals are “concerned” about the rising hospitalizations, hospitals had time to “perfect” their care plans while numbers dipped in previous months.

ICU beds have not yet reached capacity in the state or in any regions, Halstead said on Tuesday. However, she pointed out that the state reported an 82.4 percent increase in hospitalizations last week compared to the week before.

“So we’re sure keeping an eye on it,” Halstead said.

Hillcrest Healthcare System operates hospitals and clinics throughout eastern Oklahoma including in Tulsa, Cushing and Henryetta. Spokeswoman Rachel Weaver said the system saw an increase in COVID patients in June and this week.

Weaver said the system is prepared to accommodate an increase in COVID-19 patients.

“As part of our preparedness efforts at the start of the COVID response in March, we continue to meet daily to discuss and plan for bed availability, available PPE and staffing,” she said in an email.

Gov. Kevin Stitt has several times said that officials are looking at the number of hospitalizations as a way to measure how the pandemic is affecting the state.

“This is about hospital capacity,” he said on June 30. “The goal was never to have zero cases in the state of Oklahoma.”

Officials at the time said hospitalizations “remained manageable” and have touted the state’s hospital capacity.

Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a media conference at the state Capitol on June 30, 2020. BEN FELDER/The Frontier

A spokeswoman for Stitt’s office on Tuesday said the governor “continues to receive regular updates from the team at OSDH, who is actively working to combat COVID-19 and provide Oklahomans with the most up to date info.”

“The governor remains fully focused on the health and safety of Oklahomans while also supporting businesses that are going above and beyond to protect their customers and neighbors as they safely re-open,” spokeswoman Baylee Lakey said in an emailed statement.