COLUMBUS, Ohio – As the number of people in Ohio hospitals continues to increase, facilities are showing signs they’re running out of equipment and space.
Last week, health officials said during a statewide coronavirus briefing that they were starting to lend ventilators to each other, as some were running out. At Monday’s briefing, Dr. Andy Thomas, chief clinical officer at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, said ventilator loans continue.
And more surprising, at least one hospital in Ohio borrowed a refrigerated truck to store bodies of patients who have died.
But it’s not just hospitals that are showing signs of stress. It’s the people who work inside them, too.
Nurses talked about the emotional and physical toll the virus has taken on them for months, as they try to help people survive, and assist those who will not. One nurse believes post-traumatic stress disorder will be a problem after the pandemic.
On Monday, the state for the first time exceeded 5,000 hospitalizations.
“On Nov. 1, we had just under 1,700 patients in the state,” said Thomas. “And Nov. 1 was at a high point.”
The month of November experienced a 200% increase, he said.
Thomas explained the strain on Ohio hospitals as the number of people staying in hospitals and intensive-care units continues to increase.
An unnamed hospital in Zone 2, or the hospital region that’s in the central and eastern part of the state, was operating at about 130% of its intensive-care unit capacity, Thomas said.
“They ran low on ventilators in a relatively quick fashion,” he said.
OSU and Columbus-based Mount Carmel Health System loaned extra ventilators to the facility, Thomas said.
One hospital in the northern part of the state had to call in a refrigerated truck to hold people who have died. The hospital, which Thomas didn’t identify, had run out of space as more people had died with COVID-19.
“So it was becoming quite serious,” Thomas said.
In rural areas, Thomas said, 40% to 50% of people in intensive care units or on ventilators have COVID-19.
“It’s a significant issue that we’re concerned about, with ICU capacity as the total numbers grow,” he said.
The last three weeks at Cleveland Clinic Akron General have been intense, said Stacey Morris, an interim nurse manager in its COVID-19 unit. The hospital staff has worked to triage medical, surgical and intensive-care unit beds to make sure there’s enough room for everyone, she said.
What’s struck Morris about the coronavirus is how fast patients can deteriorate. They can come in just needing a small amount of oxygen. Within hours, they may need a lot more, or to be admitted to the ICU. Not enough is known about the virus to accurately predict how – and whether – each patient will pull through.
“We’ve had people in their 30s and 40s with no medical history who do really poorly with this,” she said.
“We’re seeing healthy, healthy individuals come in, and they decline so quickly,” said Jamie Giere, the COVID unit team leader at Premier Health in Troy, outside Dayton. “I feel like back in March it was the elderly population. I feel like now the COVID population has been getting younger and younger.”
Giere struggles when she watches her patients, who don’t have their loved ones holding their hands as they battle the coronavirus.
“You can see the fear on our patients’ faces, that’s heartbreaking,” she said. “That’s heart wrenching.”
Carrie Watkins, assistant director of nursing for Genacross Lutheran Services, a long-term care facility in Holland, outside Toledo, said that nursing home staff has turned into an extended family for residents.
“Their family isn’t there to see them and spend time with them,” she said. “Not only are we the caregivers, we’re becoming the extended family to those residents.”
A nurse who works for Watkins returned from maternity leave recently to find that nearly half of the 22 patients that she’d taken care of for years had passed away, she said.
Dara Pence, an ICU nurse manager at Riverside Hospital in Columbus, said nurses get to know the patients well, and at some point the nurses ask them where they contracted COVID-19. They have a variety of answers.
“I wish that we could bring people with us and have them walk through our unit,” she said. “But then I don’t wish anybody to ever see what we have to see, what our nurses have gone through. Our team is strong, but everybody is only so strong for so long.”
She believes many nurses will experience post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems long after the pandemic is eradicated.
“We’re no longer the front lines,” she said. “We’re the last line of defense. The front line now is the community.”
Morris, of Akron General, wants people to take COVID-19 seriously.
“This isn’t a hoax, this isn’t blown out of proportion,” she said.
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