Exhausted medical staff + rising patient numbers = looming health crisis in Ohio

Ohio hospitals report that they are currently at capacity or near-full due to a surge in COVID patients as health professionals continue to predominantly recommend COVID vaccines and masks. Even if the makeshift hospitals that were set up at the beginning of the pandemic were rebuilt, that will not solve the problem. There aren’t enough doctors, nurses, and other staff to care for the influx of patients who are getting younger, sicker, and in almost all cases unvaccinated.

Jo Ingles

Shekela McCarty, former hospital nurse who recently quit her job

A few months ago Shekela McCarty was a nurse in a Columbus hospital.

“It started when we got all the support from the community. And then it became a kind of distrust between the health community and then our community. It got where we as health care workers felt more threatened. And I was tired of feeling this way. We saw many dead, many very sick people. We had to have some very difficult hearts to hurt family conversations. And it prompts you mentally after a while, “says McCarty.

McCarty says the number was so high she quit and now works for an insurance company. Other nurses and health workers are quitting and retiring… ..which exacerbates the shortage of health professionals.

Maryanna Klatt, Director of Integrative Medicine, OSU

Jo Ingles

Maryanna Klatt, director of integrative medicine, Ohio State University

Maryanna Klatt is the director of integrative medicine at Ohio State University.

“Everyone in the hospital seems to be dealing with bellicose, aggressive family members of people who don’t believe in the reality of COVID. They resent limitations and they want treatments that are not evidence-based or that have evidence that they are ineffective. But you know, they are frustrated because they hear something, they read something on Facebook. Oh, that helps. And then they want it. And that’s very frustrating, ”says Klatt.

Dr.  Gregory Lam, a cardiologist in central Ohio

Jo Ingles

Dr. Gregory Lam, a doctor in central Ohio

Dr. Gregory Lam works in a hospital in a small town near Columbus. He says doctors and nurses risk their own health and sometimes their lives on a daily basis. He recently saw it firsthand when a medical team was trying to keep a COVID patient alive.

“I saw our nurses and respiratory therapists working valiantly to resuscitate him. In some cases, their own PPE fell off because they pumped so hard on his chest and tried to intubate him. In some cases, our respiratory therapists were literally inches from his face that was seeing secretions. And I knew they were exposing themselves to the coronavirus. Now everyone was vaccinated. But we do know these breakthrough infections happen, and they knew they did too. But still, they did their job to save this man’s life. And I knew they wouldn’t stop until they were told to stop. But that burdens us because, on the one hand, we have sworn an oath to help people. But on the other hand, we know that we may endanger our families, we may endanger our own lives. And that’s tough, “says Lam.

Not only hospitals are currently suffering from stress. Dr. Michael Joseph works with a group providing emergency care in central Ohio, where many people apply for COVID tests for employers, travel, or attending special events. He says that the front desk staff often bear the brunt of the burden.

“I had people at the front desk who had burst into tears and whom I had to advise and try to regroup myself. And I had to speak to our staff with inappropriate patients and also help them calm down, “says Joseph.

The shortage of medical staff is currently real in clinics as well as in large and small medical institutions. Dr. Alan Rivera of the Fulton County Health Center says COVID patients, whom he says are largely unvaccinated, increase when nurses retire or move to other jobs.

“So I didn’t see any COVID patients in June and July. August September. Now we see the majority of my senses in the hospital, our COVID patients who are between 30 and 50 younger, here in northwest Ohio, “says Rivera.

Dr.  Alan Rivera, Fulton County Health Center

Jo Ingles

Dr. Alan Rivera, Fulton County Health Center

Rivera says COVID patients are very sick and tend to stay in hospitals longer than the average patient. He says that sometimes patients with other problems, such as heart attacks or those who have had an accident, cannot be treated immediately.

Ohio Department of Health director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, says the Delta variant is six times more contagious than previous versions of the virus. Earlier this week, Vanderhoff issued an ominous warning saying that unvaccinated people are likely to develop COVID at some point. “If you are young and not vaccinated, it is probably not a question of when you will get COVID 19,” says Vanderhoff.

Southern Ohio has been hardest hit to date. Dr. Suzanne Bennett of the University of Cincinnati Health Center says it’s not just staff that is short. She says the equipment will also be stretched.

“This week alone, I’ve received about ten to 15 calls from doctors in our community, state, and the surrounding Tristate area requesting ECMO for their dying patients. These patients are between 18 and 60 years old, but this time most of them are between 20 and 40 years old, as you described, often otherwise healthy, these patients are healthy this time and the vast majority, however, we are in a room and we have not the extra nurse. We currently have to put them on the waiting list, which we learned during our recent COVID surge when we had to turn away multiple patients for resource concerns. And too often these patients die in the other hospital waiting for that critical resource, “says Bennett.

Hospitals in some cities have recently had to use a so-called “emergency bypass”. This means that emergency teams cannot bring patients to this facility while it is in this status. Last week, all major hospitals in the Toledo area were on emergency bypass for a period of five hours.

Jennifer Hollis, Columbus nurse

Columbus nurse Jen Hollis says it’s tough on those on the front lines of patient care.

“I think of the pressure on this family member, hoping that if I just get to this place, just can, maybe they have a chance. And they wait for days and days and weeks or don’t get this chance at all because they unfortunately expire. And it just isn’t. You know, we’re just looking at their names on the bedside table, I’m waiting for their patient there. But that’s someone’s mother, or someone’s father, or someone’s brother, “says Hollis.

Terri Alexander, a nurse at Summa Hospital in Akron, collapses as she describes what she has to do on a daily basis.

“We have patients in their thirties and now we are dealing with pregnant women who are in there and it’s just a sad situation to deal with. And I think everyone here is emotionally exhausted and only very affected personally at work and at home. It’s hard to keep up with the staff we have, the lack of equipment we have and play that balance game we play with beds and equipment every day, “says Alexander.

Terri Alexander, RN, Summa Health System, Akron

Jo Ingles

Terri Alexander, RN, Summa Health System, Akron

There isn’t much evidence that medical workers quit because medical systems need COVID vaccines. A survey earlier this year found that 3 in 10 are considering walking because of the risk, stress, and frustration. And a study this spring in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested a significantly increased risk of suicide for nurses, who make up the bulk of the healthcare workforce. Those who care about the mental health of healthcare workers say it is important to remember the impact of the pandemic on those exposed to the worst of it on a daily basis.

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