Springfield Regional Medical Center faces triple threat as COVID cases increase

Delta variant is “a different animal,’' hospital doctor says.

Mercy Health-Springfield Regional Medical Center has witnessed a steady increase in COVID-19 patients over the last month, a higher demand for infusion therapies to treat the respiratory illness and a growing staffing shortage with all combining to create a strain on the hospital.

Dr. Paul Buchanan, chief clinical officer of Mercy Health Springfield, told the News-Sun that the Springfield Regional Medical Center has seen an increase since August of patients requiring hospitalization for the coronavirus.

Springfield Regional Medical Center had at most 11 COVID-19 positive patients in the first half of August, with no more than five patients requiring an ICU bed and one patient required use of a ventilator, according to Mercy Health data. In the second half of August, that more than doubled with 23 COVID patients reported on Aug. 30.

On Sept. 16, the hospital reported 31 COVID-19 patients, with six in ICU and three on ventilators.

ExploreCLARK COUNTY: COVID-19 cases, deaths, and vaccinations

As of Friday afternoon, a total of 17,454 cases of COVID-19 has been reported in Clark County, with 594 total hospitalizations and 325 deaths since the pandemic began.

Buchanan told the News-Sun that the vast majority of hospitalizations for COVID-19 nationally are occurring among people who are unvaccinated, with hospitalizations among vaccinated people only accounting for up to 20% of hospitalizations nationally.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Clark County mirror the national figures. Roughly 20% of hospitalizations locally are resulting from breakthrough cases (vaccinated individuals being infected with the coronavirus), Clark County Combined Health District health commissioner Charles Patterson said during his weekly update on the status of the virus in the county.

Buchanan said that vaccinated individuals who become infected with COVID-19 and require hospitalization often have pre-existing comorbidities, such as asthma or other diseases or medical conditions.

Although the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t fully prevent an individual from catching the virus, it does dramatically lessen the chances of a person requiring hospitalization or dying from the virus. Buchanan recommended that county residents use face masks as a layer of protection against the virus, and he also urged people who have not been vaccinated to do so.

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“The delta variant is a different animal,” he said.

The rise in hospitalizations has taken a toll on the staff at Springfield Regional Center, too, as they work on the COVID-19 frontlines, Buchanan said. More than a year into the pandemic, staff are experiencing fatigue.

“At the beginning, they were fresh, they were ready for it,” Buchanan said. However, since the pandemic’s start, many staff members have quit or moved on to other opportunities, Buchanan said.

Buchanan also told the News-Sun that medical staff at Springfield Regional Medical Center have also had to leave work due to catching the virus themselves after coming into contact with a patient who was sick with the virus.

The hospital has been contracting traveling nurses to add to their workforce, a costly measure, Buchanan said.

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The hospital’s infusion therapy clinics — such as Regeneron’s COVID-19 therapy, which can serve as a treatment to patients that allows them not to be hospitalized — also have been operating at “full tilt,” Buchanan said, with the increase in demand for the therapy causing the facilities it is offered in and the staff who can administer it to be “maxed out.” However, paramedics are currently being trained to administer Regeneron’s COVID-19 therapy, a move Buchanan said will provide greater capacity to administer the therapy.

Non-COVID-19 patients requiring treatment have also been impacted by the rise in COVID hospitalizations, Buchanan said, with Springfield Regional Medical Center having a “congested” emergency room due to the influx of patients coming in with coronavirus symptoms.

In addition, the hospital has had to turn down patient transfer requests due to lack of space, with hospitals from Kentucky, Wisconsin and West Virginia calling to ask to place a patient in the Springfield facility.

The trend seen nationally by hospitals of a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations and decline in staff to fight the virus will likely continue, Buchanan said.

“It’s most likely that we’re going to stay at this level for a while,” he said. “There’s no end in sight.”

By the Numbers:

31: The number of COVID-19 patients at Springfield Regional Medical Center on Sept. 16

3: The number of COVID-19 patients on a ventilator at the hospital

325: The number of COVID-19 deaths reported in Clark County

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