Medical workers in hospitals and nursing care facilities across Ohio took the spotlight in Governor Mike DeWine's Monday update on COVID-19, pleading with the local community to take the pandemic seriously as hospitalizations and ICU admissions continue to swell.
Last week, DeWine and state hospital leaders addressed the state, pleading for Ohioans to remain at home during the holidays and continue to wear masks and socially distance any time they cannot.
Dr. Andy Thomas from OSU Wexner Medical Center said as of Monday, the state breached more than 5,000 COVID-19 infected patients in hospitals across the state. By contrast, he said, on Nov. 1 there were 1,700 patients hospitalized for the virus -- a 200% increase in just one month.
"COVID patients are going to start crowding out other people who need that level of care as these numbers continue to rise," said Thomas. "The reality is that hospitals are making difficult decisions about delaying care. It may be non-urgent care, but it's care that may cause someone to go to the ICU after surgery. A lot of hospitals are delaying those surgeries because they can't afford their ICUs to be overtaxed."
Following Thomas, four medical professionals from facilities throughout the state took center stage and shared stories from their facilities and their experiences, from losing nursing home patients at a rapid rate to watching COVID-19 patients struggle with the disease alone, while in quarantine.
They all made heartfelt pleas to the state for communities to change their behavior, wear their masks and be responsible while out in the world, to help reduce the level of hospitalizations and ICUs.
"We here in the hospitals are no longer the front line," said Dara Pence, ICU nurse manager at Ohio Health's Riverside Hospital in Columbus. "We're the last line of defense. The front line is now the community."
All four medical professionals emphasized how difficult this is on staff, emotionally and physically, as cases continue to break records daily and how strenuous their jobs and lives have become as infection rates spike.
"I wish I could wear a GoPro for just four hours of my day so people in the community can see," said Jamie Giere, a nurse and team leader in the COVID-19 unit at Premier Health's Upper Valley Medical Center in Troy, Ohio. "I don't think the public truly understands what we go through every day and the heartbreak and emotion, and seeing the pain on these patients' faces."
When asked about the hardest thing she and her staff have to endure as more and more patients flood hospitals, Giere said the pain and fear in patients' eyes while they struggle alone, in quarantine, is something that has weighed heavily on her and her staff throughout the entire pandemic, and has worsened during the current wave. She pleaded with Ohioans to take the pandemic seriously and to stop shrugging off data as fake, or doctored.
"This is no joke," she said. "It's not a hoax. This is real, this is true. We're exhausted. I want everyone to realize that. Please, take this seriously."
Carrie Watkins, an assistant director of nursing at Genacross Lutheran Services in Holland, Ohio, spoke about the challenges facing nursing home staff, who have been struggling to keep their charges safe despite stringent cleaning rituals and best practices. She told the story of a nurse at her facility who returned from maternity leave to find that, out of the 22 patients she'd been caring for when she left, half had died from the disease while she was gone, and the heartbreak that experience brings for employees in long-term care facilities.
"We as nurses and caregivers work so hard to take care of our residents and just support one another, and people really need to realize their actions have unintended consequences," she said. "Even if you don't have a loved one in a nursing home facility, you can start a chain reaction that brings it right into our buildings. The residents we care for are someone's husband, somebody's grandparents, someone's brother, could possibly be somebody's child and these lives are worth protecting."
Although not featured on Monday's address, the University of Cincinnati Medical Center announced new restrictions on hospital activity, including canceling any elective procedures on Nov. 28 due to high volumes of COVID-19 patients being admitted to the hospital and ICU facilities. Hospital leaders across the state said last week they are doing the same, because hospital staff cannot keep up with the caseload and are experiencing severe burnout.
Watch the full address below: