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As cases surge, Iredell Health's virtual COVID hospital saves bed space

The virtual hospital allows doctors and nurses to monitor at-home patients.

IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. — As COVID-19 cases surge in the Carolinas, an Iredell County hospital is taking a major step to save bed space: creating a virtual hospital for at-home patients.

WCNC Charlotte has learned Iredell Health System launched what’s known as a virtual hospital for coronavirus patients.  The virtual hospital allows doctors and nurses to monitor at-home patients.

It comes as the latest state data shows nearly 4,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in North Carolina.  Iredell Health was using the virtual hospital for routine medical conditions before transitioning to COVID-19 patients.

The virtual hospital allows some patients to stay in their own bed instead of occupying a hospital bed, a vital resource at hospitals see an rise in hospitalizations.

Before the pandemic, an empty hospital room would not always be especially noteworthy but these days bed space is among the top priorities.

“We watch it essentially all day long,” said Doctor Joseph Mazzola, vice president of medical affairs for the Iredell Health System.

RELATED: Iredell County recognized for quick vaccination efforts

Within the past few weeks, the Iredell Health System transitioned some of their COVID-19 patients to the virtual hospital.

“When we saw the surge after Thanksgiving; essentially doubling our in-patient census in our hospital,” Mazzola said.

The patients receive an Internet-connected tablet device which allows doctors to monitor them 24-hours a day.

“We have a dashboard that sends text alerts to us, which I just got one, which will tell us if a patient is having any change in their oxygen level or their heart rate,” said Mazzola.

Dr. Mazzola says the virtual hospital is meant for patients with milder illness, those being discharged but need extra support, and some people who visit the emergency room. Not all patients are eligible for the virtual hospital.

Earlier this year, WCNC Charlotte reported about Atrium Health’s virtual hospital. Ramona Reeves received treatment through the virtual hospital with help from paramedics who checked on her.

“ I’m very grateful for the paramedics who came to my house I thought I was going to die,” Reeves previously said.

“We also call the patients every day,” said Mazzola.

Dr. Mazzola said they have about 50 COVID patients in the physical building, and roughly another 15 patients monitored in the virtual hospital each day.

“Which obviously frees up the physical beds for patients who need higher and more advanced treatments,” said Mazzola.

 Iredell Health System  can can monitor up to 100 patients at a time through the virtual hospital and they plan to use it through the rest of the pandemic.