'Our concern is our caregivers': Health care leaders worry as spread of COVID-19 continues in community

Hospital leaders make plea to keep staff safe
Posted at 8:01 AM, Nov 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-16 18:46:34-05

CLEVELAND — Health care leaders from Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth Medical Center and University Hospitals came together in a joint briefing to discuss their concerns as the number of daily COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the state.

Each hospital addressed the number of patients hospitalized and stressed that spread of COVID-19 isn't happening in the workplace, but in the community. All three leaders stressed the importance of going back to the basic, wearing a mask and social distancing because they work.

"It would be a real tragedy to experience a substantial loss of life right as we are announcing a breakthrough, excellent news, of new vaccines," said Tom Mihaljevic, president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic.

The Cleveland Clinic

As of Monday, 450 beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, which translates to around 8 to 9% of the clinic's overall capacity.

Mihaljevic said the vast majority of patients hospitalized are not hospitalized because of COVID-19.

"We are really worried about the trend. This is twice as many patients as we had at the first peak of the pandemic in March and April," Mihaljevic said.

Mihaljevic said the clinic is averaging 60 COVID-19 positive patients into area hospitals every day.

"If we continue at the rate we are going, our hospitals will be overwhelmed. Across our region, we have enough beds and supplies to care for our patients. Our concern is our caregivers. We need everyone to do their part to protect the healthcare workforce as we navigate through this pandemic," he said.

There are currently 800 caregivers throughout the Cleveland Clinic hospitals that are out due to either testing positive for COVID-19 or due to the need to quarantine.

"Never before have we had this many caregivers out of work sick,” Mihaljevic said.

MetroHealth Medical Center

Akram Boutros, president and CEO of MetroHealth, said in the past week the number of calls to the COVID-19 hotline was the highest it has been since the start of the pandemic in March, meaning more people are getting infected.

There are 60 caregivers out due to COVID-19.

Boutros said contact tracing shows caregivers are getting infected outside of work.

“They get it from a child, cousin, somebody they went to a restaurant with, somebody they went to the gym with,” Boutros said.

"If we have many of our staff out because of exposure while there is a large influx of COVID patients, we will not be able to provide the best care to everyone who needs it," Boutros said.

MetroHealth is currently at around 80% capacity.

University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center

Cliff Megerian, president of University Hospitals, said there are approximately 200 in-patients with COVID-19, which is about 9% of the hospital's beds. Overall capacity is running between 83% and 84%.

"We have room, god forbid we need more room," Megerian said.

University Hospitals is expecting to reach about 800 patients, which would be around 45% of total bed capacity. At that point, Megerian said they would need to rationalize where patients would be moved.

"Despite the potential good news of a series of vaccines. Before there is a vaccine, we have a bunch of crucial months over the holidays when people will be gathering. I think, make no mistake, we want to make sure people listening understand and that we believe our hospitals are safe," he said.

There are about 200 or so caregivers sidelined with the virus, Megerian said.

"Often time the caregivers are getting the virus through community spread and the patients coming to us are getting it through community spread rather than spreading it in our facilities," he said.

Megerian stresses the public should not loosen their vigilance as now is the time to protect caregivers, family and friends.

"If we average the increase over the last month, we could see ourselves by Christmas time getting up to 800 patients which would be a 4-fold increase in patients in-house that we are seeing. Obviously, we are hoping that doesn’t happen. We hope clear heads prevail, "Megerian said.

RELATED: Northeast Ohio healthcare workers getting COVID from community spread, Cleveland Clinic doctor says

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