Small City Hospitals Overwhelmed by COVID-19

 

In 1986, Judy and Larry Pichon were married. The couple lived a happy life in Louisiana, though their days were sometimes complicated by Judy’s health. She had granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA), a rare blood vessel disorder. Sometimes, Larry needed to drive Judy to the emergency room for help. But this year, things changed. On July 13, Judy was admitted into the hospital. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, Larry couldn’t accompany his wife. After 12 hours in the hospital, Judy’s condition worsened, requiring a ventilator. Because of bed and equipment shortages, Judy could not be admitted into the ICU. She passed away before Larry could get to the hospital to say goodbye.

Although Judy herself didn’t have COVID-19, Larry attributes to viral pandemic to her death. COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that rapidly spread across the globe. As of the afternoon of July 31, there are 17.3 million diagnosed cases worldwide, with an associated 674,000 deaths. In the U.S. alone, there are 4.59 million cases and 155,000 deaths. These deaths are from the virus, but the number doesn’t include those plagued by a very real problem: equipment shortages and an overwhelmed medical community.

As described by NPR’s Sean McMinn, the sheer amount of patients with COVID-19 have overwhelmed hospitals in cities around the country. But is it possible to get the country back on track and ready to handle a greater caseload?

COVID-19: Medical Shortages

Altogether, many hospitals and medical centers around the country found themselves unprepared with the surge of cases. This isn’t a criticism of the hospitals themselves; rather, it highlights the disparities in treatment ability within different areas. Below are just a few of the areas currently finding themselves in a difficult position.

Boise, ID

Over the past 7 days, Idaho experienced 3,516 newly diagnosed cases of COVID-19. According to NPR, a majority of these cases were in Boise or the surrounding areas. Beyond that, this last week also accounts for around 1/5 of all COVID-related deaths in Idaho.

Although larger hospitals are taking patients, they still worry about an uptick in cases. While CEO of St. Luke’s Health System, Chris Roth, notes that hospitals are doing their best to care for patients, he notes that waiting a few more months will only result in more issues. Within the last week, two of St. Luke’s ICUs were completely full, running at around 130% of normal capacity.

Louisiana

In Southwest Louisiana, COVID-19 cases are rapidly rising. Both Lake Charles and Lafayette are experiencing extremely high rates of COVID-19 and related hospitalizations. But unfortunately, both hospitals are also running out of beds in the ICU. Doctors cannot refer patients to larger hospitals either; those are already at capacity. Says Dr. Manley Jordan:

“What keeps me up at night is not having any light at the end of the tunnel.”

While Governor John Bel Edwards has requested additional staff, there is still a major shortage. At this time, this means that hospitals are on “diversion,” turning some patients away or referring them to other hospitals. This means that patients experiencing other health issues besides coronavirus may not be able to get the help they need. Explains Amanda Logue, CMO of Lafayette General Health:

“If you’re in a car accident, I’m sorry, but we can’t take you at this time.”

COVID-19 in Yakima, WA

While many people heard of a large outbreak in Seattle near the start of the pandemic, you might not know that Yakima became the epicenter in June. More so, Yakima has a poor ratio of patients and hospital beds. In part, this is due to a major hospital closing in January; now, there is only one other hospital in Yakima. How many beds does one this have in the ICU? Just 11.

However, hospitals like Virginia Mason Memorial have been working hard to improve their care abilities. Although some patients are transferred elsewhere, VMM doubled the amount of critical care beds. Additionally, the hospital added additional space for patient care. But while we can recognize these benefits, we must also realize that with this came an extreme staff shortage. Staff are just as important during this pandemic as medical equipment.

Yakima also stepped up when the hospital, community, and businesses launched a campaign to encourage people to wear masks. While only 35% of people were wearing masks around Memorial Day, the community raised it to 95%. As a result, hospitalizations have fallen.

Moving forward, the key to flattening the curve will be finding ways to give hospitals operating at capacity, or hospitals in these smaller areas, the necessary equipment and staff needed to succeed.


Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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