COVID-19 Resurgence Straining Hospital, Health Care System

Confirmed and pending confirmation COVID-19 hospitalizations, Riverside Health System. Chart courtesy of Riverside Health System.

By Carol Vaughn —

Like hospitals across the nation, Riverside Health System is seeing an influx of COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious delta variant.
Riverside officials urged people to take precautions against COVID-19 as case numbers rise and urged eligible people “to receive the vaccine as soon as possible,” according to a press release.
Around 80% of COVID-19 related hospitalizations in the Riverside system in the past month were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people, according to the Sept. 9 release.
Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital President Nick Chuquin this week said a little more than 80% of recent COVID admissions are unvaccinated patients.
“We still encourage and hope everybody does get a vaccine sometime soon. The numbers, they are concerning … and the age has dropped,” he said.
“Riverside is taking patients,” he said, but added, “Some days, we are really busy; some days, the census drops.”
Chuquin said the hospital’s intensive care unit “has been very steady; our ICU has been almost at capacity.”
The hospital is seeing “a lot of COVID patients; we have quite a few that are going on vents,” he said.
Among the challenges is that patients are staying in the ICU for longer periods, meaning fewer beds are free for newly admitted patients.
Some patients needing procedures not done at the Shore’s hospital have been transported to Riverside’s Newport News facility or to Sentara, based on the specialist the patient needed.
While Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital has not yet paused elective, outpatient surgeries, Chuquin said that is a possibility.
“We’re not there yet, but we do review things on a daily basis. We have a huddle call with the other presidents of the other hospitals daily,” he said.
“The support from Riverside Regional and the doctors up in (Riverside)Walter Reed when needed has been tremendous throughout this whole thing, where we can easily share resources or have a place for patients to go when they need a little bit more,” he said.
Delta variant case numbers are approaching the initial COVID-19-related totals seen at the pandemic’s peak in January, according to the release.
“The recent surge in COVID-19 infections over the past few months has tested all of us in many ways. Our communities, the team at Riverside, first responders, other health systems, and many more came together in an unprecedented way last year to fight the pandemic and heroically meet its challenges. Now the delta variant cases are approaching the initial COVID-related totals we witnessed at the peak in January 2021,” according to the release, which went on to say, “… Although we are all anxious to move past this pandemic, we must gather the courage and resources to continue the fight.”
Riverside detailed statistics about COVID-19-confirmed patients discharged from all its hospitals in the last 30 days. Because the numbers change so frequently, figures for individual hospitals were not given, according to a spokesperson.
In the last month, 92% of COVID-19 patients ages 19-49 were either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated; 93% of patients ages 50-62 were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated; and 61% of patients ages 65-95 were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.
Additionally, 83% of COVID-19-confirmed patients in intensive care were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.
Three percent of COVID-19 patients in the past month died in the hospital — all were unvaccinated.
The death toll in Virginia from COVID-19 topped 12,000 earlier this month, according to the state health department.
By race, 73% of Riverside’s White COVID-19 patients in the last month were unvaccinated; 80% of Black patients were unvaccinated; and 100% of patients of other or multiple races were unvaccinated.
In addition to the surge in cases, a shortage of health care workers is resulting in lower staffing levels than before the pandemic began.
“We recognize that some of you have had to reschedule elective surgeries that require an
overnight stay. Others are experiencing longer-than-normal wait times in our hospital emergency departments. Our dedicated teams are working hard to care for COVID-19 patients and those experiencing life-threatening illnesses and conditions,” the release said, adding anyone experiencing a life-threatening injury or illness should not hesitate to seek immediate emergency care.
People with mild symptoms, such as sore throat and cough with a low-grade fever, are encouraged to consider visiting their primary care doctor, scheduling a video visit, or going to an urgent care facility instead of the hospital’s emergency room.
Other Delmarva hospitals have paused elective surgeries as result of the surge.
TidalHealth Peninsula Regional Hospital in Salisbury and TidalHealth Nanticoke in Seaford, Del., both announced Monday a temporary pause in elective, nonemergency surgeries requiring an overnight stay. The pause will be in effect for at least two weeks, according to a press release.
All nonemergency surgeries requiring an overnight stay will be evaluated by a multidisciplinary clinical team and those that can be postponed will be. Affected patients were notified by their surgeon.
The decision was made because of several factors that have combined to put stress on staffing levels and hospital bed capacity, according to the release.
“TidalHealth made the decision based on a set of criteria that examines physical bed capacity, unit-based staffing, critical care bed saturation, and the overall percentage of COVID-positive patients based on our total admissions,” said Sarah Arnett, chief nursing officer at TidalHealth. “The trigger point to reduce elective procedures is when we have exceeded our defined thresholds in three or more criteria for several days, which we have, first at TidalHealth Peninsula Regional and now at TidalHealth Nanticoke,” she said.
“We made this decision for the safety of our patients,” said Dr. Joseph Kim, president of medical staff at TidalHealth Nanticoke. “We do encourage everyone to receive a COVID-19 vaccination to reduce their chances of needing hospitalization as the delta variant and other forms of COVID-19 continue to circulate in our area.”
A spokesperson for Sentara Healthcare said Sentara hospitals, although seeing increased patient volume, continue to be open to all patients, including patients from the Eastern Shore.
“Many Sentara hospitals are currently experiencing increased patient volumes that are at or exceeding traditional inpatient capacity,” according to an emailed statement sent by Kelly Kennedy, Sentara Healthcare public relations advisor.
“While we have no restrictions in place, we recognize this may lead to delays in accommodating external transfer requests. We continue to implement additional measures to expand our hospitals’ capabilities including the use of semi-private rooms, overflow inpatient units, ED hallway beds, and postponing certain non-urgent procedures to try and address hospital capacity,” the statement went on.
Riverside in its release noted cases where a vaccinated person contracts COVID-19 typically do not require hospitalization and those that do are usually the result of non-COVID-19-related co-morbidities such as congestive heart failure, obesity, and diabetes.
“Worldwide results show that the vaccine is safe and very effective. In addition, the vaccine significantly reduces the likelihood of contracting and spreading the virus, requiring hospitalization, or dying because of COVID-19.
“While it is true that receiving the vaccine is a personal choice, refusing to participate in the
solution affects the entire community, including the young, who, at this point, are unable to receive the vaccine,” according to Riverside.
Riverside officials urged people to renew their commitment “to the best practices we learned last year: masks, hand washing, social distancing, and vaccination. When you follow these practices, you are protecting yourself, your community and showing gratitude to the workers who are giving their energy, talent, and love to keep us healthy and safe.”
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