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UnityPoint hospital has been filling up

Doctor: Vaccine remains best protection against COVID; CEO: Staff has been working extra shifts

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Mackensie Brennan-Rowe, registered nurse, left, and Daisah Shivers, patient care technician, walk through a hallway in the Highland Herum Center for Acute Care at UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center on Friday. Hospital staff and providers have been working extra shifts in recent weeks to provide care for a higher volume of patients than normal. That has been necessary due to an increased spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses in the community.

In recent days, staff and providers at UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center have been overwhelmed as beds have filled up with patients suffering from not just COVID-19, but other illnesses as well.

“This last month but especially the last two weeks, we have seen a high census of COVID and other illnesses,” said Leah Glasgo, president and CEO of the Fort Dodge hospital. “The delta variant is spreading. We have seen the delta variant in the population we serve — therefore filling up hospital beds and ICU beds.”

Glasgo reported that about 80 percent of patients hospitalized at Trinity with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. And she said the average stay for a COVID patient is seven days. To put that in perspective, the average stay for most other health conditions is two to three days. That means when someone comes to the hospital sick from COVID, they are occupying space and resources that could be used to treat someone suffering from another life-threatening condition.

Fort Dodge physician Dr. Vinil Bhuma said the best way to prevent this influx of hospitalizations is for more residents to get vaccinated.

“COVID vaccines are safe,” Bhuma said. “I understand that people are hesitant with mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccines, but mRNA technology has been there for years, even before COVID hit us. For those people who say there aren’t enough trials, I would say it has been over a year since mRNA vaccines have been tested with trials and approved for emergency use authorization. For over a year, millions and millions of people across the globe have been vaccinated and it has been effective.”

The vaccine is simply the best protection available. It helps prevent people from suffering severely from the virus, according to Bhuma.

“When you are vaccinated, you have the immunity to stop it,” Bhuma said. “That is protecting you. And then your body is trying to get over the infection. It’s like you’ve already won half the war before it even started because you had the immunity and then we are able to support them (patient) with the treatments we have. Vaccination will give you that head start to recover from this illness.”

Bhuma said through his own observations, the statistics hold true. It’s far more common, he said, to see an unvaccinated patient suffering more severely from the virus.

“Seeing COVID patients on the frontline, people who are vaccinated are not as symptomatic,” he said. “The ones who are not vaccinated are the ones who are getting very sick and into the ICU.”

According to Webster County Health Department, almost 62 percent of Webster County residents 18 and older are fully vaccinated.

In recent times, the middle age population has suffered more from COVID-19, according to UnityPoint Health data.

The current average age for hospitalizations from COVID-19 is 63.

Glasgo said that number is down from the low 70s that it was at at the end of 2020.

“That tells us the middle age population is getting affected more recently,” Bhuma said.

Glasgo said the number of infections has put a strain on the entire state’s health care system.

“We look at all of UnityPoint Health as available to us to transfer patients when we are full,” Glasgo said. “But all across Iowa we have seen high numbers of acute hospitalizations.”

She did clarify, however, that the Fort Dodge hospital is always in a position to treat those who need it.

“Even though we have been challenged with bed availability, we are not turning patients away,” Glasgo said. “We will do whatever we can to take care of you.”

Testing supplies for COVID have also been limited, Kari Jones, the hospital’s chief nursing executive, reported.

“We have some limited testing supplies for COVID,” Jones said. “We also have limited allocation of RSV testing supplies. It’s just the demand across the country for those supplies, especially right now, it’s been high.”

She said at times the samples have had to be sent to UnityPoint Health in Des Moines for results.

“We can do the test here, collect it here, but the results are taking longer,” Jones said.

There is hope that the recent spike in infections will soon decline.

“We believe we are at the peak, so we hope we will start to see a decline in COVID patients these next two weeks,” Glasgo said. “The good news is we think we are at the height.”

She also said despite the challenges faced by the hospital, that staff has done an excellent job of doing more when asked.

“The bright spot in all of this has been our amazing staff,” Glasgo said. “This is the second or third round of these high volumes due to COVID. They are working extra shifts. They are helping each other out, working on different floors, making sure we are able to care for the patients in our community. I can’t thank them enough.”

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