Four Oklahoma Health Systems Come Together To Provide a Situation Update on COVID-19
Published: Tuesday, August 17, 2021
COVID-19 cases, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant and a low vaccination rate, have pushed Oklahoma City hospitals to capacity. Hospital leaders are asking Oklahomans to wear their masks and get vaccinated in order to slow the surge of hospitalizations.
“Our healthcare providers simply cannot keep going at the current pace,” said OU Health Chief Quality Officer Dale Bratzler, D.O., MPH on Aug 17. “People are in the hospital for many conditions other than COVID-19, but the continued rise in hospitalizations for COVID-19 is threatening the availability for everyone seeking our services.”
The number of new COVID-19 infections has risen dramatically in Oklahoma. In the past week, there have been 15,490 new infections reported in Oklahoma, which is an increase of 10% over last week. One thousand three hundred and ninety two (1,392) people with COVID-19 are currently hospitalized in Oklahoma, and 369 are in the ICU. There have been 131 deaths because of COVID-19 in the past week.
Virtually all of the hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 are among people who are unvaccinated, Bratzler said. The majority of infections are caused by the Delta variant, which is much more contagious than past versions of COVID-19. Because Oklahoma’s overall vaccination rate remains below 50% and mask-wearing has decreased significantly, the Delta variant has been able to spread rapidly, he said.
On many days over the past few weeks, Oklahoma City’s largest hospitals have not had a single bed available, said Bahar Malakouti, M.D., neurohospitalist and Stroke Medical Director at Mercy Hospital. Patients crowd emergency rooms waiting for beds to open up, while their conditions deteriorate because they don’t have access to the level of care they need, she said.
Many people delayed surgeries and treatment for a variety of conditions during the original surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sought out that care this summer when vaccinations became available. However, with COVID-19 hospitalizations once again surging, treatment is being threatened for anyone requiring inpatient care, Malakouti said.
“No hospital is adequately equipped for the scenario that this pandemic has forced us into, which is that so many people with one condition – COVID-19 – are coming to the hospital needing a very high level of care,” Malakouti said. “Unless something changes, the care we provide to all of our patients will be compromised. Our healthcare providers and staff are under incredible pressure right now.”
Oklahoma City’s hospitals also are receiving a staggering number of requests each day from other hospitals throughout Oklahoma and from neighboring states to transfer patients needing an intensive level of care, said Kersey Winfree, M.D., internal medicine physician and Chief Medical Officer for SSM Health St. Anthony. When care is delayed for the most critically ill of those patients, their chances of recovery or survival significantly decrease.
Because of the nursing shortage that all hospitals are facing, healthcare providers are stretched to their limits, Winfree said. Patients with COVID-19 require a higher level of care than many other patients, but because of low levels of staffing, each nurse is caring for more patients than usual. That’s a situation that hospitals try to avoid.
“Our nurses have done heroic work during this pandemic, but we simply do not have enough staffing to continue caring for this many patients with COVID-19,” Winfree said. “These are the most difficult of times for nurses and physicians on the frontline, as they see even younger patients dying in the ICU from this terrible virus. We are putting forth all of the resources we can to help find more staffing to help, but with higher demands by patients with COVID across the region, recruitment efforts cannot keep up.”
In order to decrease the burden on hospitals, physicians are asking the public to get vaccinated and to wear their masks. If vaccination rates increase, the surge of COVID-19 infections will begin to slow as people gain protection from the virus. In the interim, mask wearing will decrease the surge more quickly and provide relief to overburdened hospitals, said Julie Watson, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for INTEGRIS Health.
“This is a critical time for our hospitals, and we are asking for the public’s help to stop this surge of hospitalizations due to COVID-19,” Watson said. “Our physicians, nurses and other health care providers are doing all they can to ensure each patient gets the care they need. But we cannot continue doing our work without your help. Wearing your mask and getting vaccinated is the way we can all take care of one another.”
Oklahomans who have not yet been vaccinated or completed their vaccinations can find a vaccination location through the OKC County Health Department site: VaxOKC.com