The continuing COVID-19 surge of patients into area hospitals is placing a greater burden on already over-burdened healthcare workers, the chief executive officers of the University of Virginia Medical Center and Augusta Health said Monday.
“Our healthcare workers – your loved ones, friends and neighbors – are at their breaking point,” they wrote in a joint statement.
Wendy Horton is the CEO of UVa Medical Center and Mary Mannix is the CEO of Augusta Health. They wrote that the more contagious omicron variant is the most serious challenge the hospitals have faced thus far in the pandemic — a challenge that has exhausted their staff. The variant has caused cases to surge to record levels in the area, state and nationally.
“With more patients with COVID in our hospitals to care for and fewer staff members to help – because they too have COVID – this latest surge is putting our ability to care for everyone in the community who needs our help in jeopardy,” they wrote, adding that they are grateful for the healthcare workers who have stepped up throughout the pandemic.
The vast majority of COVID patients in both hospitals are unvaccinated, according to the statement. The UVa Medical Center admitted 14 new COVID-19 patients on Sunday and has 122 patients overall, according to UVa’s COVID tracker. In the last week, the hospital averaged about 20 new patients a day.
“This has left our healthcare workers not just exhausted but heartbroken – heartbroken by caring for patients who are dying needlessly; patients who would have had different outcomes if they’d been vaccinated,” they wrote in the statement.
So far this month, the Blue Ridge Health District has reported 164 new hospitalizations, which far exceeds the record of 94 set in September.
Horton and Mannix urged their community members to get vaccinated or a booster dose, if eligible, as a way to show respect and appreciation for healthcare workers. Vaccine appointments can be made through vase.vdh.virginia.gov.
“Hospitalization rates for people 12 years and older who are not vaccinated are about 8 to 10 times higher than for those who are vaccinated, and we are seeing this same trend across our hospitals,” they wrote. “Free COVID vaccines are proven to be safe and are incredibly effective at preventing severe COVID.”
Forgoing the vaccine and booster shot means prolonging the pandemic, they wrote. In response to the increase in cases and hospitalizations, area hospitals have moved to once again restrict visitors and delay elective surgeries, in some cases.
When cases increased in September, August Health created a second intensive care unit, and brought in a mobile morgue.
In the last month, area hospitals urged people to stay away from the emergency department if they only needed a COVID-19 test or had mild symptoms. That message was reiterated in the joint statement.
“If everyone in our community who is eligible becomes vaccinated and boosted, it would go a long way toward relieving the crisis our teams are facing daily in our clinics, emergency departments and inpatient units,” they wrote.