More troubling: As they approach a third year of dealing with COVID-19, there is a growing sense that the worst might be yet to come.
Valley health care providers are worn out, physically and mentally.
Coronavirus cases have continued to explode here and nationwide, with the highly contagious omicron variant leading to an unprecedented spike in cases.
That has Valley providers concerned that overwhelmed hospitals might be a week or so away from a possible breaking point.
It’s putting more pressure on medical staffs everywhere, including Evangelical Community Hospital and across Geisinger’s health system.
Pennsylvania has registered more than 20,000 COVID-19 cases a day in the first part of 2022. The state is on pace to shatter the record number of cases in a single month, while the number of patients hospitalized nears levels not seen at any point during the pandemic.
The issue right now, hospital officials say, is numbers — both cases and staffing. Vaccinated staffers are getting infected because of the contagiousness of the omicron variant.
Evangelical President and CEO Kendra Aucker said the hospital had 40 staffers out with COVID on Thursday. Two weeks earlier there had been just three people off.
Geisinger’s Dr. Gerald Maloney, chief medical officer for hospital services, said across the health system — which has 21,000 employees — hundreds are out sick. “What we figured out during all this is that we’ve had three problems: Stuff, staff and space,” Maloney said. “We have the space figured out. This time we have the stuff. Now it’s the staff. That’s the problem. We know what’s coming, but it’s hard to prepare if we don’t know how many people we’re going to have.
“We can put beds where they’ve never been before, but if I don’t have the staff, we can’t use them,” he said. Because case counts are erupting at record numbers — there were more than 1,000 cases in the Valley in the first six days of 2022 — health care leaders know it will translate into a rise in patients, just like it has with each surge.
Aucker said on Thursday, Evangelical had 102 patients and 54 of them were COVID patients. The majority of those were not fully vaccinated. So half of Evangelical’s beds had COVID patients. “How do you take care of the heart attacks, the GI bleeds, appendix?” she said.
Tired staffers Frontline medical providers have been fighting COVID in the Valley for nearly two full years. The first confirmed case in the Valley was in Montour County on March 21, 2020. On Friday, the Valley passed 37,000 cases. More than 800 Valley residents have died from COVID since the start of the pandemic.
“What’s worrisome,” Connolly said, is that providers have “played every hand we have. If it gets much worse, then what? What else can we do?” “Everyone says hospitals are full, but what does that mean?” Dr. B. James Connolly, medical director for the Department of Emergency Medicine at Evangelical, asked. “From an Emergency Department standpoint, we don’t have the resources to do the things we need to do the way we need to do them. That’s terrifying. Every night we are faced with the potential of being overrun. We all wonder, ‘Is tonight going to be the night? Are we finally going to be pushed over the cliff?’ That is the heaviness we are dealing with.”
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