Lima hospitals warn of rising COVID-19 admissions after brief slowdown

By Mackenzi Klemann -

LIMA — Lima hospitals are reporting another rise in COVID-19 admissions, prompting facilities to once again postpone elective surgeries and evaluate which outpatient services can continue after a two-week slowdown in admissions.

With nearly 130 COVID-19 patients reported in intensive care units, emergency departments and hospitals across the Lima region Thursday morning, hospital systems are facing increasing pressure to keep their COVID-units staffed as their own nurses, physicians and technicians fall ill or quarantine after being exposed to the virus in the community.

Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center, which has admitted the largest share of COVID-positive patients in the region, has halted all elective procedures that require an overnight stay at the hospital after briefly resuming some of those surgeries and is starting discussions to potentially cease some outpatient services to redeploy outpatient staff in the COVID-19 units.

Similar discussions are underway at Lima Memorial Health System, which is experiencing similar trends in its emergency department and intensive care unit.

“It’s an unfortunate lesson that we’re learning right now that we just don’t have enough healthcare workers to take care of the population that’s requiring care,” said Dr. Matthew Owens, chief clinical officer for Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center.

The resurgence of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations comes as college students are returning home and as families get ready to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, events that could further exacerbate already alarming trends.

Twenty-five percent of all patients in Ohio intensive care units were being treated for COVID-19 Thursday, while nearly 20% of all hospital patients across the state were COVID-positive and at least 845 of those patients required ventilator support, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Roughly 14% of all coronavirus tests administered in Ohio on Tuesday came back positive, down from a peak of 18% 10 days ago but still very close to the 15% positivity rate that the Ohio Department of Health uses to issue travel warnings for other states.

“When more than one-fifth of an ICU’s beds are filled with one diagnosis like COVID, people start getting very worried,” Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health, said during Gov. Mike DeWine’s press conference Thursday. “That one group of patients is so large that they’re making it hard to get other patients into the ICUs.”

Moderna vaccine could arrive next week

Lima hospitals are anticipating the first shipment of vaccines by the middle of next week should the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grant emergency use authorization for the Moderna vaccine.

Owens said the vaccines holds promise for the future, but is not an immediate promise to relieve pressure from hospitals and the community, many of whom will not have an opportunity to be vaccinated for months.

Hospitals are starting to evaluate which healthcare workers will be first in line when the vaccine arrives, but it’s still unclear how many doses each facility should expect.

Long-term care facilities are expected to begin vaccinating their staff and residents as soon as Friday.

Dr. Dennis Morris, chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs for Lima Memorial Health System, said it would be a mistake for the public to take the news of a forthcoming vaccine as a chance to relax their adherence to public health recommendations because supplies are still limited and the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines each require two doses per person, prolonging the first phases of vaccination before the public has access.

“The virus is still going to be out there in full force,” Morris said, “and we’re far, far from any kind of herd immunity.”

By Mackenzi Klemann

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