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W.Va. Hospital Association, WVU Medicine, describe pandemic hospital crisis, call on residents to do their part

MORGANTOWN – The West Virginia Hospital Association said this week that hospital systems across the state are strained to near the breaking point and called on residents to do their part to help the systems weather the COVID-19 surge crisis.

Locally, WVU Medicine Chief Medical Officer Michael Edmond talked about the stresses WVUM is facing and how it is coping.

“This combination has strained the health care system and now after nearly two years, the system is nearing a breaking point as health care workers are mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted,” WVHA said. “As a state and a nation, we are in this crisis together, and although there have been multiple calls for action in the past, we need your help now more than ever to ensure health care services are available for everyone who needs them.”

Edmond said, “We have been under pretty difficult circumstances for quite some time.” The major concern, though, is what’s ahead with the omicron variant and its increased infectiousness.

“At the moment we’re hanging in, but we really don’t have much in the way of more capacity to offer,” he said. “And we’re quite concerned we will reach the breaking point if the pandemic moves in a worsening direction.”

WVUM has adequate bed space, Edmond said, but not enough staff. There are plenty of doctors, but not enough nurses, respiratory therapists and many other positions. “We often have to have beds closed because we just don’t have the nurses to staff them.”

Burnout is an issue, he said. “This pandemic has gone on for so long.”

In particular, the ICU staffs are affected by the unprecedented amount of suffering and death they see, he said. And most of the suffering and death is preventable through vaccination. “There’s just so much sadness that these people have.”

Ruby Memorial, Edmond said, is seeing about 70-80 beds per day occupied by COVID patients. “That’s a sizable chunk of beds that are needed to care for these patients.”

There’s a backlog of about 1,000 surgeries. They have sufficient operating rooms but the patients need a bed for post-op care and the hospital doesn’t have that. They look carefully to ensure that the necessary surgeries are done but others are waiting because beds have COVID patients.

“What we’re really concerned about is what if that doubles or triples in the next few weeks,” he said.

Unlike last January’s surge, this one hasn’t seen the hospital numbers drop, he said.

The January surge peaked at 818 hospitalizations statewide, and fell to 54 by July 4, according to W.Va. Department of Health and Human Resources figures. The September surge peaked at 1,012 but fell to only 498 on Nov. 25. Now the number is back up to 605, with 208 in ICUs (86.5% unvaccinated) and 114 on ventilators (86.8% unvaccinated).

“We just never got the relief that we got after the previous wave,” he said. And the omicron surge may hit before delta passes.

Edmond urged residents to get vaccinated and boosted, to wear a mask to protect yourself and others, to probably limit travel and to stay home if you have symptoms.

WVHA asked residents to pay attention to some other issues. They should be aware waiting times are longer and staffing shortages are now the norm. Emergency medical services and other care sites are also stressed and overworked. “There may be times when capacity in the system is not adequate to accommodate the usual response and speed of transport. Also, at times, patients are having to be transferred to out-of-state hospitals due to lack of capacity in West Virginia.”

As the pressure increases, WVHA is also calling on residents to get vaccinated and boosted.

“Carefully consider where you seek health care. A primary care office, virtual health care visit, or urgent care may be the best site of care and reduces demand on limited hospital and emergency departments’ staff.”

But for emergency conditions such as stroke symptoms, chest pain, difficulty breathing or significant injury, do seek emergency care. Don’t delay routine medical care, physicals and screenings. Address small problems before they become serious ones.

WVHA urges those who can to donate blood. The Red Cross is experiencing the worst blood shortage in over a decade, it said. “The dangerously low blood supply levels have forced some hospitals to defer patient care.”

WVHA asks everyone to “extend patience and thoughtfulness to those who are working the hardest to support and care for our family members and friends. Our health care teams have worked tirelessly for the past 20 months to serve every community in our state. Now more than ever, they need your support as we are in this crisis together.”

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp EMAIL