Hospital surge capacity in a tertiary emergency referral centre during the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy

Anaesthesia. 2020 Jul;75(7):928-934. doi: 10.1111/anae.15072. Epub 2020 Apr 22.


The first person-to-person transmission of the 2019 novel coronavirus in Italy on 21 February 2020 led to an infection chain that represents one of the largest known COVID-19 outbreaks outside Asia. In northern Italy in particular, we rapidly experienced a critical care crisis due to a shortage of intensive care beds, as we expected according to data reported in China. Based on our experience of managing this surge, we produced this review to support other healthcare services in preparedness and training of hospitals during the current coronavirus outbreak. We had a dedicated task force that identified a response plan, which included: (1) establishment of dedicated, cohorted intensive care units for COVID-19-positive patients; (2) design of appropriate procedures for pre-triage, diagnosis and isolation of suspected and confirmed cases; and (3) training of all staff to work in the dedicated intensive care unit, in personal protective equipment usage and patient management. Hospital multidisciplinary and departmental collaboration was needed to work on all principles of surge capacity, including: space definition; supplies provision; staff recruitment; and ad hoc training. Dedicated protocols were applied where full isolation of spaces, staff and patients was implemented. Opening the unit and the whole hospital emergency process required the multidisciplinary, multi-level involvement of healthcare providers and hospital managers all working towards a common goal: patient care and hospital safety. Hospitals should be prepared to face severe disruptions to their routine and it is very likely that protocols and procedures might require re-discussion and updating on a daily basis.

Keywords: COVID-19; coronavirus; hospital preparedness; respiratory failure; surge capacity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / therapy*
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / therapy*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Surge Capacity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Tertiary Care Centers*