COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has asked the Ohio National Guard to deploy 1,250 additional members to hospitals around Ohio as the COVID-19 surge, especially among unvaccinated Ohioans, continued to fill hospital beds and stretch hospital staffs to the limit.
“This is not something that we do lightly,” DeWine said at a news conference announcing mobilization efforts on Wednesday. “These are our fellow citizens, women and men. We are asking them, by mobilizing them, to leave their families. We're asking them to leave their jobs. We're asking them to leave their homes. So, it is a huge sacrifice and we are very grateful for their willingness throughout this pandemic to do that.”
The additional guard members will be deployed throughout the state; Major General John C. Harris, Jr., Adjutant General with the Ohio National Guard could not specify Wednesday where they are heading, but the branch will monitor the numbers daily and shift resources as necessary to meet demand around the state.
“One of the things we've learned already during this, even at this early in the response, is that as we learn the ability to shift forces and move the resources to where the hospitals need them is going to be a great asset to us,” Harris said. ”But a preponderance of our forces are in the Cleveland area right now. We do this in coordination with the Department of Health and the Ohio Hospital Association, identifying where the hot spots are and where to put our most critical assets.”
Already, over 1,000 members of the National Guard were deployed earlier this month, with Cleveland, Canton and Akron the areas of focus for the 150 highly-trained medical personnel in the deployment.
The current mission of the National Guard members, both clinical and non-medical, is to help expand the capacity of the hospital, assist with environmental services and food services and even basic administrative tasks, Harris said.
“So the goal here is to expand the hospital's capacity because most of the hospitals tell us their challenge is not shortage of beds, but shortage of staffing to staff those beds,” Harris said. “So as we put medical providers in and as a hospital to look for ways to increase that capacity, it also increases the demand for those other services — what we call wraparound services.”
At this point, state leaders said the plan to have guard troops in hospitals is temporary. They want it to end when the surge slows, but no one said if there was a long-term plan if it's needed.
"It's certainly not our intention to stay in the hospitals, but we'll stay as long as the hospitals need us," Harris said.
DeWine said the state has recorded the highest number of hospitalizations in the last two years. Since June 1, more than 35,000 people have been admitted for care; a large majority of them unvaccinated. With the latest surge during the holidays, hospitals are at a breaking point again.
"So, if we have a 32-bed unit, but 20 of those patients are COVID-positive, that sets a whole different set of requirements for the staff in terms of donning and offing protective equipment," said Marti Bauschka with Southwest General Hospital in Middleburg Heights.
Over 5,000 people are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in Ohio — 5,356 as of Wednesday, according to the Ohio Department of Health — which, when adjusted for population, is the highest hospitalization rate of any state in the U.S., according to Dr. Robert Wylie, Chief Medical Operations Officer for the Cleveland Clinic, who is also the leader of the state’s Hospital Zone 1, which covers Northeast Ohio and extends from Youngstown to Toledo and south to Canton and Dover.
“It means we have over 3,000 people hospitalized within just the northern part of the state, and today we set a record not only for the entire zone of over 3,000, but we had the highest number we've ever had in Cleveland and the surrounding area of nearly 1,500, and in the in the Akron-Canton area, 1,111,” Wylie said.
At the county level, Cuyahoga currently has the highest number of cases per day in the state, and one of the highest in the country, with nearly 3,000 cases a day recorded there.
At the Cleveland Clinic, Wylie said, “today is the first day since the pandemic started that we started with over a thousand patients with active COVID in the hospital.”
Over 210 of those patients are in the ICU and under critical medical care.
The hospital itself is seeing unprecedented effects from the surge of COVID-19, with over 2,700 of the hospital system’s nurses, caregivers environmental service workers and other workers currently out, Wylie said.
“This morning we had the highest number of people out that we've had since the pandemic started,” he said.
On Wednesday, 89 people were not at work at Southwest.
It is not just hospitals in Northeast Ohio that are at their breaking point.
"It is beyond difficult," said Jennifer Hollis, a critical care nurse at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus. "Our beds are full. There's nowhere else to go and we are just as short-staffed as everybody else is seeing as well."
Hollis was one of several people in the press conference with state leaders Wednesday.
"I would be lying if I was saying I dealt with it well," she said. "There's not a patient that I'm not thinking about when I come into work."
In the last seven days, Franklin County reported more than 10,000 new cases of COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.
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