August 6, 2021

'A surge like we've not seen before': Inside the hospitals overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients

Daily Briefing

    Hospitals in Florida, Louisiana, and other states with rapidly rising Covid-19 case rates are seeing surges in hospitalized Covid-19 patients that are, in some cases, surpassing the surges they saw over the winter—a problem that's exacerbated by staff shortages.

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    'We are seeing a surge like we've not seen before'

    According to CDC, the number of Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 has nearly quadrupled over the past month to almost 45,000. Four states—Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi—account for more than 40% of those hospitalizations.

    In Florida, for instance, more than 12,500 patients were hospitalized with Covid-19 as of Thursday, and more than 2,500 of them were in intensive care, the Associated Press reports. On average, Florida is seeing almost 18,000 new Covid-19 infections per day, up from fewer than 2,000 a month ago.

    "We are seeing a surge like we've not seen before in terms of the patients coming," Marc Napp, CMO of Memorial Healthcare System in Florida, said. "It's the sheer number coming in at the same time. There are only so many beds, so many doctors, only so many nurses."

    According to AP/Modern Healthcare, Memorial as of Wednesday had more than 1,600 inpatients admitted for overnight stays throughout the health system. Typically, the health system doesn't care for more than 1,400 inpatients at a time.

    Meanwhile, AdventHealth, located in central Florida, had 1,350 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 as of Thursday, AP reports, which is the highest number of Covid-19 patients the system has ever seen.

    "We have peaked above any previous wave and it is straining our system, our physicians, and all of our clinicians," Neil Finkler, chief clinical officer of AdventHealth's central Florida division, said.

    And Baptist Hospital in Miami, which less than two months ago was starting to close its Covid-19 units, is now reopening units—with more than 200 new Covid-19 patients admitted as of Monday. "As fast as we are opening units, they're being filled with Covid patients," Sergio Segarra, Baptist's CMO, said.

    Meanwhile, in Mississippi, nearly 1,200 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized as of Thursday, AP reports, spurring Thomas Dobbs, state health officer, to say the delta variant is "sweeping across Mississippi like a tsunami."

    And in Louisiana, around 2,350 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized, AP reports. To handle the surge, hospitals are postponing any non-emergency surgery that could need an overnight stay, Robert Hart, CMO at Ochsner Health, said.

    Hospitals in Texas are also being overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, Angela Clendenin, a professor at Texas A&M School of Public Health, said. She added that this surge, unlike prior surges which involved mostly older and middle-aged adults with other comorbidities, includes young adults who require breathing machines in the ICU.

    According to Dane Henry, CEO of Lake Regional Health System in Missouri, the hospital's weekly inpatient occupancy average hit 99% in early July. About a third of the hospital's beds were held by Covid-19 patients early last week—a surge that matches the system's previous pandemic peak in mid-November.

    Similarly, CoxHealth in Missouri said it was treating 187 Covid-19 patients on Sunday, surpassing its previous peak of about 170 last winter. "My advice to other hospitals is: Plan on being on the same high-water point you were in winter unless you're in a community that has a really high vaccination rate," Steve Edwards, CoxHealth's president and CEO, said.

    Meanwhile, in Chicago, Terry Vanden Hoek, ED chair at University of Illinois Hospital, said the hospital treated around 3,000 patients a month in the ED last year. Now, the ED is seeing around 4,000 patients a month.

    "The hospital is full. There are no beds to be had. We're trying to do the best we can to get patients discharged," he said.

    Staff shortages plague hospitals

    Further exacerbating the issue, the Washington Post reports, is that in addition to the Covid-19 surge, many hospitals are facing staff shortages, in part due to burnout from the pandemic.

    "The mental toll of pandemic and burnout is real and it is pervasive across the country," said Purvi Parikh, an immunologist with Physicians for Patient Protection.

    Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said his facility has seen staff quit in the middle of their shifts. "We have had people walk off their shift, in the middle of their shift as distressing as that is because they could not take it anymore."

    And in Texas, where hospitals in Corpus Christi, Victoria, Kingsville, Beeville, and San Antonio have begun diverting patients, Nueces County judge Barbara Canales issued a call to available nurses to help fill a growing staffing gap amid the surge. "Every staffed bed is full," she said, adding that while there "are beds available," there are "no nursing staff for them."

    In fact, in some areas of the country facing nursing shortages, Parikh said some physicians are being forced to train as nurses to compensate for the shortage.

    She added that this feeling of hopelessness among health care providers is getting worse as they see people refuse to get vaccinated or take Covid-19 seriously. "There is only so much stress people can handle before reaching a breaking point," Parikh said. (Kennedy/Marcelo, Associated Press, 8/5; AP/Modern Healthcare, 8/5; Alltucker, USA Today, 8/6; Evans/Wernau, Wall Street Journal, 8/4; Villegas, Washington Post, 8/5)

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