Original Research

Role and Experience of a Subintensive Care Unit in Caring for Patients With COVID-19 in Italy: The CO-RESP Study



From the Department of Emergency Medicine, Santa Croce e Carle Hospital, Cuneo, Italy (Drs. Abram, Tosello, Emanuele Bernardi, Allione, Cavalot, Dutto, Corsini, Martini, Sciolla, Sara Bernardi, and Lauria). From the School of Emergency Medicine, University of Turin, Turin, Italy (Drs. Paglietta and Giamello).

Objective: This retrospective and prospective cohort study was designed to describe the characteristics, treatments, and outcomes of patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection (COVID-19) admitted to subintensive care units (SICU) and to identify the variables associated with outcomes. SICUs have been extremely stressed during the pandemic, but most data regarding critically ill COVID-19 patients come from intensive care units (ICUs). Studies about COVID-19 patients in SICUs are lacking.

Setting and participants: The study included 88 COVID-19 patients admitted to our SICU in Cuneo, Italy, between March and May 2020.

Measurements: Clinical and ventilatory data were collected, and patients were divided by outcome. Multivariable logistic regression analysis examined the variables associated with negative outcomes (transfer to the ICU, palliation, or death in a SICU).

Results: A total of 60 patients (68%) had a positive outcome, and 28 patients (32%) had a negative outcome; 69 patients (78%) underwent continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Pronation (n = 37 [42%]) had been more frequently adopted in patients who had a positive outcome vs a negative outcome (n = 30 [50%] vs n = 7 [25%]; P = .048), and the median (interquartile range) Pao2/Fio2 ratio after 6 hours of prone positioning was lower in patients who had a negative outcome vs a positive outcome (144 [140-168] vs 249 [195-268], P = .006). Independent predictors of a negative outcome were diabetes (odds ratio [OR], 8.22; 95% CI, 1.50-44.70; P = .015), higher D-dimer (OR, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.04-1.57; P = .019), higher lactate dehydrogenase level (OR, 1.003; 95% CI, 1.000-1.006; P = .039), and lower lymphocytes count (OR, 0.996; 95% CI, 0.993-0.999; P = .004).

Conclusion: SICUs have a fundamental role in the treatment of critically ill patients with COVID-19, who require long-term CPAP and pronation cycles. Diabetes, lymphopenia, and high D-dimer and LDH levels are associated with negative outcomes.

Keywords: emergency medicine, noninvasive ventilation, prone position, continuous positive airway pressure.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to large increases in hospital admissions. Subintensive care units (SICUs) are among the wards most under pressure worldwide,1 dealing with the increased number of critically ill patients who need noninvasive ventilation, as well as serving as the best alternative to overfilled intensive care units (ICUs). In Italy, SICUs are playing a fundamental role in the management of COVID-19 patients, providing early treatment of respiratory failure by continuous noninvasive ventilation in order to reduce the need for intubation.2-5 Nevertheless, the great majority of available data about critically ill COVID-19 patients comes from ICUs. Full studies about outcomes of patients in SICUs are lacking and need to be conducted.

We sought to evaluate the characteristics and outcomes of patients admitted to our SICU for COVID-19 to describe the treatments they needed and their impact on prognosis, and to identify the variables associated with patient outcomes.


Study Design

This cohort study used data from patients who were admitted in the very first weeks of the pandemic. Data were collected retrospectively as well as prospectively, since the ethical committee approved our project. The quality and quantity of data in the 2 groups were comparable.

Data were collected from electronic and written medical records gathered during the patient’s entire stay in our SICU. Data were entered in a database with limited and controlled access. This study complied with the Declaration of Helsinki and was approved by the local ethics committees (ID: MEDURG10).

Study Population

We studied 88 consecutive patients admitted to the SICU of the Santa Croce e Carle Teaching Hospital, Cuneo, Italy, for COVID-19, from March 8 to May 1, 2020. The diagnosis was based on acute respiratory failure associated with SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection on nasopharyngeal swab or tracheal aspirate and/or typical COVID-19 features on a pulmonary computed tomography (CT) scan.6 Exclusion criteria were age younger than 18 years and patient denial of permission to use their data for research purposes (the great majority of patients could actively give consent; for patients who were too sick to do so, family members were asked whether they were aware of any reason why the patient would deny consent).


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