Hamilton County hospitals face new strain with COVID surge, fewer health care workers to deal with it

Lack of health care workers makes strain harder
Hospital hallway
Posted at 3:48 PM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 00:07:55-05

CINCINNATI — Hamilton County health care leaders are urging the public to get vaccinated to relieve the newest strain on the region’s healthcare system.

“This pandemic is not over,” said Dr. Richard Lofgren, the CEO of UC Health. “It is very active and alive and is actually overwhelming our health systems.”

There were 4,735 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in Ohio as of Wednesday, according to the Ohio Hospital Association. It’s a few hundred patients shy of when hospitalizations peaked on Dec. 15, 2020.

Making it worse is that Dr. Lofgren said staffing levels have dropped since last year’s surge.

“We had a lot more staff (in 2020) than we do now,” he said. “The number of people who have left health care over the last nine months is significant.”

He added that many workers took on extra shifts last winter, in a way he described as “not sustainable.”

“They're tired, and they're exhausted,” he said. “We really have exhausted our human capital to be able to respond to that.”

Dr. Lofgren said a surge in Cleveland is causing some emergency room patients to wait days for a bed. He said he felt Southwest Ohio may only be a “couple of weeks behind that situation right now.”

Locally, The Health Collaborative reported 102% of the region’s ICU beds were occupied as of Tuesday.

Click to open data in new window.

“There’s only so much space at the end for those folks,” said Tiffany Mattingly, Vice President Clinical Strategies at The Health Collaborative. “We are full blown in the surge.”

It’s a surge that health leaders say will impact non-COVID patients, too.

Dr. Lofgren said they have not had to uniformly stop elective procedures, but noted decisions are made in real time.

With holiday gatherings on the horizon, leaders want more people to get vaccinated. Hamilton County’s Health Commissioner said 90% of those hospitalized with the virus are not vaccinated.

“You put yourself at risk when you gather, no matter what, but your risk goes down significantly if everybody in that room was vaccinated,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus.

Health officials also urged the public to get tested for COVID-19. Free at-home test kits are available throughout Hamilton County at Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Libraries. You can find more information here.