Hospital capacity dramatically improves since December surge peak

The first dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine (a two-dose regimen) is administered to frontline health care workers at Miami Valley Hospital. Photo provided by Premier Health.

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The first dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine (a two-dose regimen) is administered to frontline health care workers at Miami Valley Hospital. Photo provided by Premier Health.

While hospital leaders are keeping a close eye on the recent COVID-19 case plateau, there are far fewer patients with the respiratory disease in Ohio hospitals compared to winter’s aggressive surge.

As of Friday afternoon, about 1 in 21 patients in Ohio hospitals were COVID-19 positive. That’s down from 1 in 6 patients two months ago, though a slight uptick from 1 in 23 patients a week ago.

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Dr. Patrick Lytle, VP of Clinical Outcomes at Kettering Health Network, said some people might be discouraged because the numbers might not be falling as drastically as they wanted to see, but overall the numbers have improved.

“I think what we’re gonna see from now on is, hopefully, a very slow, gradual drop,” Lytle said.

The latest federal data reports that about 2 to 3% of Montgomery County adult hospital beds on average were used by COVID-19 patients for the week of March 12-18.

For the week of Dec. 25 to Dec. 31, Miami Valley Hospital reported to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that on average 16% of adult inpatient beds in use by COVID-19 patients, or about 174 COVID-19 patients a day. Kettering Medical Center reported on average 19% of inpatients with COVID-19 for that week, or about 79 patients a day. Hospitals had also at the time surged their total number of beds.

The downward trend comes as more Ohioans get vaccinated. More than 3 million Ohioans have at least one dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines. This includes 70% of adults 70 and older, who are otherwise at an elevated risk for getting severely ill or dying from the disease.

Because there are fewer people severely ill from COVID-19, hospitals have been able to scale back surge tactics. Formal incident command centers have stood down. Beds used for surged capacity are scaled back and some of the local surge units have been reverted to their original purposes.

Staffing was strained in the winter surge as more care was needed but also staff themselves were having to isolate or quarantine. Travel nurses can fill some positions, but hospitals across the country all competed for the limited pool.

But now, hospital staff have been at least offered a vaccine.

“Where we’re at is far better from an employee standpoint than we were a month, two months ago,” Lytle said.

Dr. Roberto Colón, chief medical officer of Miami Valley Hospital, said that the level and pace of work has slowed down when it comes to COVID-19, though there is still care that needs provided.

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“Now that we have the vaccine, and many of our staff have been fully vaccinated for some time now, it adds that extra layer of comfort to being able to take care of patients,” he said. “And when you layer on top of that family members that have also been able to be protected, there is less of that worry that they could be bringing something home and infecting someone else.”

Hospital leaders are closely monitoring the recent case flatline and uptick.

Lytle emphasized that people are not fully vaccinated until two weeks after their final dose and some of the increase in cases could be from people letting their guard down too early.

“We definitely can’t let our guard down. We need to be vaccinated. We still need to do our masks, and we need to be cognizant and smart,” he said.

Colón said he wouldn’t call it a spike just yet, because he thinks it’s just a rise in the number of cases, but it is a local trend nonetheless that is mirroring the rest of the state.

“Unfortunately, I think that our path down to 50 out of 100,000 has stalled a little bit and there’s some work to be done to get us back on the right path,” Colón said.

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