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'The exhaustion is actually palpable': Ohio healthcare workers understaffed, overwhelmed with COVID-19 surge

Cleveland Clinic doctor
Posted at 4:03 PM, Nov 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-23 16:06:14-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine held a press briefing Monday to discuss the impact of the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the state on hospitals and health care workers, stressing the importance of getting the virus under control.

As of Monday, DeWine said there are 4,358 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ohio with 1,079 patients in the ICU. These numbers are concerning, not only for the patients with the virus, but for the medical professionals working to fight the virus and take care of those who have it.

Dr. Robert Wylie of the Cleveland Clinic said that his hospital system has 970 caregivers out as of Monday, either in quarantine or diagnosed with COVID-19.

“This is by far the largest by several fold,” Wiley said.

Not only is the Cleveland Clinic taking a hit with a loss of health care providers, it’s seeing a surge in patients requiring care at its facilities.

Wiley said that on Sept. 23, the state had 600 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. In 60 days, that number skyrocketed to the 4,358 patients as reported Monday.

As a result of the surge in hospitalizations, Wiley said that patients and equipment are having to be transferred between not just hospitals, but between hospital systems in order to balance the load.

“We saw it for the first time that we are starting to transfer ventilators and high flow oxygen equipment because people were actually running out,” Wiley said.

The Cleveland Clinic has been moving caregivers to different departments to make up for the loss of the health care workers in order to treat the surge of patients.

Wiley said the Cleveland Clinic has closed down inpatient elective surgeries to take the health care providers who would normally be working those services to help care for COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Andrew Thomas of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center outlined the growth of patients his zone has seen over the past month, showing a huge spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Thomas said that on Nov. 2, his zone had surpassed 400 hospitalizations reported for the first time. Four days later they surpassed 500 patients, then 600 patients four days after that.

From Nov. 17 to Monday, the number of hospitalizations in Thomas’ region jumped from around 700 to 960 and is on the verge of surpassing 1,000, he said.

Thomas said he's seeing hospitals trading patients back and forth trying to keep up with care because “frankly they just hit their capacity.”

“This is not something that’s a Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati problem, it’s a problem throughout the state,” Thomas said.

“In the next few weeks, every hospital in the state is going to have to start making tough decisions about how it will staff its beds, about what elective non-urgent, non-emergent things it's going to have to postpone,” Thomas said. “Even to the point of potentially postponing ambulatory and outpatient office visits.”

Dr. Richard Lofgren, president and CEO of UC Health, reiterated the danger that the surge in hospitalizations poses for hospital systems in the state and said his zone has 1,121 patients hospitalized—253 of whom are in ICU and 171 of whom are on ventilators.

Lofgren said that nearly half of the hospitals in his zone are reporting nursing shortages due to COVID-19.

He said health care workers are working extra hours; they’re stressed and burnt out trying to provide the best care.

“The exhaustion is actually palpable,” Lofgren said.

Lofgren said that the impact of COVID-19 on the hospital systems will lead to the way health care workers are able to care for patients with all medical conditions, not just COVID-19.

“We’ve seen the surge, it is here,” Lofgren said. “We’re responding to it but I can tell you as the surge increases, we’re going to need to make more and more decisions about how we triage and take care of patients appropriately.”

Dr. Ronda Lehman, president of Mercy Health said that a third of her zone’s inpatient census is COVID-19 cases.

Lehman said that patients are coming in faster than they can discharge others.

“The ability to be able to discharge patients safely back to their homes and have oxygen set up and have home care set up or have skilled nursing facility placement, those are all pieces of the healthcare puzzle that are also being very taxed and overburdened by this,” Lehman said.

All of the medical professionals who joined DeWine’s COVID-19 press briefing shared the shame sentiment—if Ohioans don’t act now, hospital systems across the state will soon be too overwhelmed to function well.

With Thanksgiving approaching and the holiday season upon us, DeWine and the medical professionals urged Ohioans to avoid large gatherings and travel and to remain vigilant in COVID-19 mitigation methods such as wearing a mask, washing hands and socially distancing.

“We have the ability to change the future,” DeWine said.

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