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UVa, Augusta Health team up for vaccination campaign

The CEOs of the University of Virginia Medical Center and Augusta Health are pleading with their communities to get vaccinated.

“There are times when communities really need to come together as partners, really join arms and rally toward a common cause,” said Wendy Horton with the medical center. “This is one of those times. COVID is an insidious disease, and it impacts all of us.”

Horton and Mary Mannix, CEO of Augusta Health, spoke during a virtual press conference Tuesday about the toll the latest surge in COVID-19 cases is taking on their hospitals. The pair released a joint statement Monday, kicking off a public education campaign that will include advertisements in local media.

By sharing the stress that hospital workers are under, the officials hope to motivate individuals to get vaccinated, wear their mask, social distance and wash their hands.

“We really want to turn the corner on this pandemic, and we think that being united in our messaging and our communication is absolutely essential and can be very powerful,” Mannix said.

As of Tuesday, UVa had 126 COVID-19 patients and is averaging 21 new patients a day, based on a seven-day average.

Horton said that UVa has had more than 100 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, which is more than at any time in the pandemic. The majority of those hospitalized are unvaccinated. By comparison, in mid-December, the hospital had 36 patients with COVID-19.

“We’re hoping that if the public and our community has greater awareness and understanding of the real situation in our hospitals and the benefits of how they can support us, that together we’re going to make a meaningful impact for our teams as well as our community,” Horton said.

About 65.8% of those in the Blue Ridge Health District are fully vaccinated and another 35.8% have received a booster dose.

Horton pointed to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that those unvaccinated individuals who are 18 years and older are 16 times more likely to be hospitalized.

“So that’s more reason to make sure that everyone that is eligible to be vaccinated, and the more patients that we have to have hospitalized, the more stress that this puts on our overall health system,” she said.

In the joint statement, Horton and Mannix said that their employees were at a breaking point — a point reiterated during the press conference.

Because the omicron variant is more transmissible than previous variants, more healthcare workers are having to quarantine or isolate, leaving the hospitals short-staffed. Additionally, hospitals locally and nationally have seen more employees quitting.

Mannix said the staffing levels are creating capacity challenges at Augusta Health that are greater than those experienced during the delta surge. However, Augusta Health hasn’t seen the same level of hospitalizations because of changes implemented during delta. For example, Mannix said the health system focused more aggressively on outpatient treatments of COVID-19.

Both hospitals require staff members to be vaccinated and are closely monitoring patient counts and staffing levels to ensure they have the capacity needed to meet the community’s needs. Mannix said they’ve had to cap the number of patients they can take at times because of staffing issues.

To try to help the staff cope, Augusta Health has used morale boosters, such as bringing in food trucks or having a jeans day. But those only go so far, Mannix said.

“It’s really important to know that our team members have been at this for two years now,” Mannix said. “That is a very long time to be working under this tremendous amount of stress.”

Horton added that morale at UVa “wears thin” with each surge.

Both Horton and Mary said the recent executive order aimed at helping hospitals address the surge in cases has given them much needed flexibility.

“We’re at a pivotal point where it’s just not hospitals and caregivers,” said Horton. “It’s all of us together.”


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