Ohio hospital leaders on COVID-19: 'We've seen the surge; it is here'

Posted at 2:01 PM, Nov 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-23 20:31:35-05

Hospital leaders throughout Ohio joined Governor Mike DeWine on Monday in addressing the public about the state of hospitals, capacity and COVID-19 infections in their regions.

Dr. Robery Wyllie from the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Richard Lofgren from UC Health, Dr. Andy Thomas from OSU Wexner Medical Center and Ronda Lehman from St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima all appeared on the call. Each hospital leader represents a zone in the state, to track data and infection rates and determine hospital-related COVID-19 indicators such as ICU admissions and resource allocations.

All said their regions and healthcare centers are dangerously close to becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

“We can’t sound the alarm bell loud enough to the people of Ohio to change their behavior,” said Thomas, with OSU Wexner.

All four hospital leaders begged Ohioans to stay home for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday to avoid further spread, because hospitals throughout the state are struggling with capacity and manpower.

At the Cleveland Clinic, Wyllie said there are currently 970 caregivers out either because they have to quarantine or because they’re infected with COVID-19.

Healthcare worker infection rates run parallel to community spread numbers, regardless of levels of exposure within the hospitals, Wyllie said. As community infections go up, so do infections among frontline workers in medical care facilities, because they’re catching the virus in the community and not from within the hospital.

“This virus is everywhere,” said Lofgren, with UC Health.

He said already nearly half the hospitals in the Cincinnati and Dayton region are reporting a nursing shortage. He also said as workers become scarce, hospitals must look to their allocation of resources, re-routing healthcare workers from other departments and shutting down access to ambulatory care, outpatient care and elective surgeries.

“The workforce is exhausted, the exhaustion is actually palpable,” said Lofgren.

Each hospital leader attested that their facilities have seen a dramatic increase of COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization and ICU attention in just the past two months. At OSU Wexner, Thomas said that on November 2, the hospital broke 200 patients. On November 21, it broke 900 patients.

Lofgren echoed the same, stating that in the region surrounding Dayton and Cincinnati, there are 1,121 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Monday, with 253 in the ICU and 171 on ventilators.

"In the end of September, throughout the entire region we had 90 individuals hospitalized," Lofgren said.

All four hospital leaders said the swell in COVID-19 patients is overtaxing an already short-staffed workforce and causing severe amounts of burnout in the industry. They pleaded with Ohioans to avoid gathering for Thanksgiving and other holidays, because the swell of infections that are likely to come after those kinds of activities could press the state's hospitals to the point of breaking.

"The number of patients that are presenting that need for hospitalization are coming in at a faster rate than we are discharging them," said Lehman, with St. Rita's in Lima.

She said this is the core of the problem with the current spread and why trends must drop before Ohio hospitals are forced to sacrifice the amount and kinds of care they can provide.

"Yes, there is definite data to say that not as many people are expiring or passing away from COVID, but the mortality or the morbidity of that and the ability to be able to discharge patients safely back to their homes and have oxygen set up and have home care set up or have skilled nursing facility placement – those are all pieces of the healthcare puzzle that are also being very taxed and overburdened by this," Lehman said.

The leaders were asked whether or not temporary facilities in convention centers that were erected in the spring could be used again as hospitals fill, but leaders said space is not the issue. In the spring, the healthcare industry was low on resources like PPE and ventilators, but now the shortage is simply in manpower. All leaders said, if necessary, those temporary facilities could be set back up quickly, but they likely wouldn't solve the real problem with facilities over capacity.

"We need the public to do its part in terms of reducing this load," said Wyllie.

Watch the full conference below: