Concerns about the region’s health care system are growing as a new wave of COVID infections are “clogging the system,” according to heath care officials.

WEDCO’s Public Health Director Dr. Crystal Miller was the first to sound the alarm in Scott County, but others have joined to warn the public of the challenges, problems and ramifications brought on by the pandemic.

An illustration of the challenges is a long-time public official with COVID was kept in an emergency room for days before being moved to a regular room.

“I cannot confirm if a specific patient is in the hospital,” said Georgetown Community Hospital CEO William Haugh. “However, your question about bed availability is a good one. Bed capacity across the state is limited because of utilization and the ongoing staffing shortage that hospitals (and most industries) are current experiencing.

“For the same reasons, it is more difficult now than ever to transfer patients to tertiary centers. As a result, higher acuity patients are staying in the community hospital setting.  This is the challenge that is not only facing Georgetown Community Hospital but all hospitals in he region, state and throughout the country. Despite the challenges, our team has done a phenomenal job of taking care of sick patients and I am proud of their effort and results.”

Dr. Horace Hambrick, a pediatrician and member of the Georgetown Community Hospital Board, agreed with Miller the health care system is in a fragile state.

“The medical system is so clogged with COVID patients, it can’t do business for other medical issues,” he said. “I recently had a child that needed an emergency CAT scan. In all my years, the hospital has always been able to accommodate an emergency situation, but this time they couldn’t.

“Fortunately, we located a facility in Lexington for the CAT scan. Turns out it was an emergency and the child was hospitalized. There was another situation of which I became aware when a patient had been in the ER for several days. The hospital could not find another facility for transfer. Eventually, the patient was sent to Pikeville. A room could not be located in our region — he had to be sent four hours away to Pikeville.”

Hospitals are closing off wings to create isolated COVID areas because of the contagious nature of the virus. Early in the pandemic, medical procedures that could wait were postponed, but now after almost two years many of those medical procedures are becoming critical, creating situations where doctors and hospitals are making difficult, sometimes heart-breaking decisions.

“The system is so overburdened, it’s clogged,” Hambrick said. “Typically, our hospital has maybe one patient on a ventilator. Now, it’s not unusual to have as many as six people on a ventilator at a time. The illustrations I’ve given you are commonplace.”

WEDCO Health District serves Scott, Harrison and Nicholas counties. The most recent increase in COVID cases has challenged the health department, Miller said. Before the holidays, the Scott County Public Health Department was testing a few patients daily, but since Christmas the number of tests at the Georgetown facility have often numbered in the hundreds. There have been days when patients were turned away because the health department ran out of tests and other days the nurses simply could not process everyone who arrived. As recently as Jan. 6, the health department was backlogged with 400 cases, Miller said.

“And those people are coming in because they are all symptomatic,” she said. “Our team cannot handle the load. We will soon be shifting our contact tracing efforts.”

In an effort to stem the recent surge, the Scott County Public Health Department will be providing vaccines on a daily basis. Previously, vaccines were given on Fridays. Appointments are encouraged, although not necessary, Miller said.

The strain on the health care system is real, Miller said.

“It’s not just COVID, it’s the flu, there is a stomach virus going around and a lot of health care issues have been delayed due to COVID,” Miller said. “We should do everything we can to support our health care delivery system. Our health care delivery system is very fragile right now.”

December was the most brutal month during the pandemic, but January may surpass it. Through five days, there have been 483 new confirmed cases of COVID, two deaths and 12 hospitalizations. The ages of those hospitalized range from 28 to 87 years of age, with six unvaccinated, four vaccinated and the vaccine status of two is unknown, The deaths were 76 and 86 year old males. One was vaccinated and one was not.

“We are seeing a high volume of breakthrough cases,” Miller said urging people to get the booster dose.

Through Jan. 7, there have been 11,899 confirmed cases of COVID since the pandemic began, including 74 deaths, according to WEDCO statistics. December was an especially difficult month with nine deaths, with 1,198 confirmed cases including two of the three highest days of confirmed cases. People under the age of 40 are among the most confirmed cases with 293 of January’s 483 cases. Fifty-four of January’s cases are younger than 18 years of age.

Most young people seem to tolerate the virus well, but they are coming into contact with others who are older and less able to tolerate the virus, Miller said. The Omicron variant has not been detected in Scott County, but it has been detected in Kentucky. The Omicron variant is highly contagious, Miller said.

 

Mike Scogin can be reached at mscogin@news-graphic.com. 

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