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As covid spikes, W.Va. hospitals work to keep capacity under control

Hospitals in West Virginia are preparing not only for a current surge of patients during the coronavirus pandemic but for what could be weeks of pressure.

Jim Kaufman

“They’re actually looking at what they need to do to have capacity not only today, but the trends continue to go up. The experts are noting, we expect to see those increases continue over the next 45 days,” said Jim Kaufman, president of the West Virginia Hospital Association.

“So what hospitals are looking at today is how do we make sure we have not only the bed capacity but also the staff to serve those communities. So they may look at delaying non-emergency procedures. They may look at other things they can do to make sure they have capacity.”

West Virginia’s hospitalizations related to covid-19 have continued a steady rise.

The coronavirus dashboard for the Department of Health and Human Resources today showed 595 hospitalizations.

That doesn’t represent capacity, but it’s a steadily growing number of West Virginians who are so sick they need to be in the hospital.

By comparison, on Nov. 1, there were 254 cases requiring hospitalization. On Oct. 1, there were 164.

“You’re definitely seeing numbers going up,” Kaufman said.

There are 166 West Virginia covid cases requiring admission to the intensive care unit, according to state figures.

And there are 81 with such trouble breathing that they need ventilators.

“I’m telling you this situation is really critical,” Gov. Jim Justice said on Monday.

Reacting to the rising hospital numbers to start the week, Justice described efforts to cut down on the number of other surgeries to ease bed capacity and staffing stress.

State health leaders have described that effort as working on two levels: priorities established by individual hospitals but also coordinating more broadly with other hospitals around the state.

“Your individual hospitals are looking at what’s going on in their communities to decide what to do, such as do they delay non-emergency procedures that require an overnight stay? Do they do other things to make sure they have the capacity to serve their community?” Kaufman said today on MetroNews “Talkline.”

“Even when you look at the statewide map, it’s not consistent across the state so you’re seeing different surges in different communities. So the local hospital needs to prepare for their local needs as well as being ready to serve for the statewide response.”

WVU Medicine, a dominant hospital system in the state, has seen steady increases in the number of covid patients over the past few weeks. Although Ruby Memorial in Morgantown is often considered full this time of year, the covid patients are on top of the usual numbers because the virus is new.

Albert Wright
Albert Wright

“I think concern with the covid patients, especially when you have 70 covid patients, is they are patients that end up staying a long time. They’re also resource intensive,” said Albert Wright, CEO of WVU Medicine.

Any given weekday, there are 600 or more patients in the Morgantown hospital, he said. Normally, coming off Thanksgiving, that number would drop by more than 100 because people would have scheduled procedures to be timed to get out and be with family.

“This year, when I woke up Monday morning, we were at 600-some patients and you never really saw that drop,” Wright said in a telephone interview.

“We started to raise the red flag a little bit.”

So WVU Hospitals will be a little more selective about what procedures go ahead. Ongoing issues such as hip or knee surgeries might have to be put off.

But “You want to do anything that is going to save life, save limb, stop the progression of a deadly disease, a cancer, a tumor. If somebody is in significant discomfort, I think you have to do that as well.”

WVU Medicine also hopes to reduce the strain on resources by warning people to be careful, even in small gatherings.

“Those small group gatherings are where a lot of the spread is happening now,” Wright said.

“If you’re in a room with 10 people these days, there’s a good chance one of those people has it. Got to be careful. It’s highly contagious.”

Charleston Area Medical Center, the biggest system in southern West Virginia, released a statement on Monday saying it had cut back on elective procedures by about 50 percent in recent weeks.

Today, CAMC followed up by saying the hospital system has seen an increase in higher acuity patients, not necessarily covid, requiring ICU-level care. CAMC today reported 97 covid patients, including one pediatric patient.

“Throughout the pandemic CAMC has occasionally reduced some procedures as the need for beds necessitated,” stated CAMC spokesman Dale Witte. He added, “The overriding principle is bed availability.

Regarding what procedures are being put off, Witte said, “Patients should contact their physician to confirm their scheduled procedure.”

CAMC is making decisions based on its own situation but with the state’s broader picture in mind too, Witte said.

“CAMC is autonomous, but follows federal/state/county health guidance and abide by emergency orders etc.,” he stated. “In addition, we continually coordinate with other health care facilities throughout the state in order to meet the needs of the communities we serve.”

With a spike in coronavirus cases expected to continue over the next few weeks, Kaufman predicted such efforts will continue.

“Hospitals are preparing for emergency situations all the time,” he said. ” I think the difference is it’s been going on for months, where usually they’re thinking of an emergency situation of a couple of days. I think that’s where it’s really important to thank anybody you know that works in a hospital — nurses, doctors, cleaning staff, security guards — because it’s putting a lot of pressure on them not only today but over the next several weeks.”


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