An increase in COVID-19 patients and a staffing shortage led Washington Health System to issue a treatment delay advisory at WHS Washington Hospital Sunday afternoon through Tuesday morning.
The health system lifted its advisory at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
WHS had notified Washington County Emergency Medical Service that the emergency room was at or near capacity and that patients might experience long delays when they arrived for treatment.
“It’s been a busy week. We’re seeing another wave of COVID-19 patients,” said WHS Chief Medical Officer John Six. “There’s been quite a big increase in COVID-positive patients.”
Six said in recent days, 30 to 35 COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized at any given time.
On Tuesday, 30 patients were being treated – in all, 24 were in the hospital’s COVID-19 unit and six in the intensive care unit.
In the summer months, the hospital was treating between one and three coronavirus patients each day.
The number of COVID-19 patients peaked in November, when 57 were hospitalized at Washington.
“Now, we’re heading back to where we peaked, and it’s taking a toll,” said Six.
About 70% of those COVID patients are unvaccinated, and about 30% are vaccinated, Six said.
The patients are slightly younger than patients in prior surges.
“We still see 40- to 50-year-olds and 80-year-olds, but we’re seeing younger patients this time,” Six said.
Those who are vaccinated are generally less sick than unvaccinated patients.
“We’re acknowledging that if you’re in the hospital, you’re still sick, but in general those vaccinated patients are not as sick as those who are unvaccinated,” Six said.
Hospitals around the country are struggling with a shortage of nurses, as the stress and demands they have faced during the pandemic have forced many to leave their jobs.
Six said WHS has hospital beds open, but staffing challenges are making it difficult to meet the ratio to safely take care of patients.
“Staffing has been a challenge for all of the hospitals in this area and across the country,” said Six. “You take 18 months of this (pandemic) and it’s going to wear on anyone.”