MORGANTOWN — WVU Medicine is now operating at a crisis-level standard of care, according to a social media announcement from the hospital.
This standard of care is a reduction in the services available at the hospital in an effort to keep up with the influx of patients. Ron Pellegrino, physician and Ruby Memorial Hospital chief operating officer, said for WVU Medicine, this means putting planned surgeries on hold, boarding patients in alternative departments awaiting care, and wait-listing patients coming in from other hospitals.
“When you look at it graphically, what’s kind of daunting is the slope of the line when you look at case counts is practically vertical right now,” he said. “And, you know, we just keep hoping that each day is going to be the peak and yet it creeps up a little higher.”
The announcement followed one of WVU’s hospitals declaring an emergency crisis due to the strain the high number of COVID-19 patients were placing on its oxygen system. Jim Kaufman, president and CEO West Virginia Hospital Association, said hospitals across the state are making similar adjustments to their operations.
He said this is not uncommon practice, but the number of hospitalizations the state is seeing now has not been seen in the past, even during previous COVID-19 surges.
“We continue to see an upward tick and we believe we’ll peak out, based on some of the models, in about two weeks,” he said.
A Ruby Memorial Hospital nurse in the emergency department, who preferred to remain anonymous, is among the healthcare providers working on the frontlines to respond to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases. While caring for COVID-19 patients, the emergency department is also assisting general patients.
The nurse said many patients are coming in who oftentimes don’t need emergency care, contributing to high wait times and the exhaustion of vital resources. They said some patients have been coming in to get COVID-19 tests and others come for help with chronic conditions that don’t require immediate attention.
Unlike urgent care, they said their department cannot turn patients away when it becomes overwhelmed. At one point, the nurse said they had about 45 people awaiting care.
“I don’t think [the public] understands that just because you’ve been exposed, just coming to the ER for just a COVID test is wildly inappropriate and taking up resources that we can’t expend,” they said.
As of Friday, according to the WV COVID-19 dashboard, 922 patients are hospitalized for COVID-19, 277 are in the ICU and 169 are on ventilators, all of which are record highs since the start of the pandemic. According to WVU Medicine’s post, data now shows West Virginia leads the United States in the number of COVID cases per 100,000. West Virginia is also fifth for the number of people hospitalized per 100,000 and ninth for the number of deaths per 100,000.
“Make no mistake, this crisis is real: nine of our WVU Medicine hospitals, including our academic medical center in Morgantown, are operating at a crisis-level standard of care; our ICUs are all full; and our providers are working around the clock to care for their patients,” WVU Medicine’s social media post reads.
Pellegrino said the best way to continue fighting against these record high numbers is to get vaccinated.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of getting our communities vaccinated,” he said. “That is really our way forward.”