Eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers and hospital staff across the country are fatigued — exhausted by the daily stress, fears and extra work caused by the outbreak.
Chief Operating Officer Adam Thacker says the medical and support staff at Good Samaritan Hospital are no different than those healthcare professionals seen on the nightly news.
“Healthcare fatigue is very prominent,” he said. “Without question, Good Samaritan’s healthcare team is no different than what’s been documented nationally.”
While the vast majority of doctors, nurses and medical support staff are accustomed to long, and sometimes grueling days, the influx of COVID-19 patients and the newly required safety protocol to mitigate the spread of the virus, pushes the staff beyond the difficulty of a normal 12 hour shift.
Thacker explains that a COVID-positive patient requires much more time and attention, which is one aspect of the added strain.
For those with a severe case of COVID — one that leads to the Intensive Care Unit — caring for that individual could include everything from continued oversight of a respiratory therapist, to 24 hour dialysis if kidney function ceases, or the administration of a cocktail of nearly a dozen drugs, which must be overseen by an ICU nurse.
Some patients will require the assistance of a ventilator to breathe, which must also be overseen. Others may have any number of wires and tubes running into the heart and blood vessels.
Last week, Good Samaritan Hospital was treating 45 patients for COVID-19 — well beyond the handful or dozen the hospital had grown accustomed to caring for during the summer and early fall months.
The surge of coronavirus cases, combined with the move into cold and flu season, means the hospital has been nearly full on a few occasions in recent weeks.
“Our census, at times, has been very high,” said Thacker, noting that “this is a busier season in general, for all hospitals. Our census is high, but we’re managing.”
From a capacity standpoint, there is a lot of variability from week-to-week and sometimes even day-to-day, owing to many factors, Thacker explained.
“Today we have bed availability and very few patients needing ventilators,” he said.
Despite the intensity of the workload and the difficulties, Thacker says Good Samaritan’s staff members are dedicated to serving the community.
“I don’t go a day here without seeing someone stepping up and having an impact, and rarely do I hear anyone complain or show frustration,” he said. “When they got their license as a nurse, or pharmacist or respiratory therapist, I don’t think anyone knew they were signing up for a global pandemic.
“But they did sign up to meet the need, and that’s what they are doing,” Thacker said, clearly proud of the efforts and resilience of the pandemic’s front-line workers.
Though healthcare workers and support staff at Good Samaritan are poised to push through this third, and most dramatic, surge of COVID-19, Thacker says hospital officials are worried about the current Knox County numbers.
“We remain concerned because, when you look at the positivity rate from a local community standpoint, it has remained very high,” he said, noting that the county’s unique individual positivity rate currently stands at 37%, the highest number at any point during the pandemic.
And, he points out, that 50% of the county’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases have occurred in the past four weeks alone.
In the first seven months of the pandemic combined, Knox County saw only 773 cases. But between Oct. 23 and Nov. 17, that number doubled, bringing the county’s total number of cases now to 1,545.
Despite the increased numbers of patients, the hospital hasn’t had to divert any patients to other regional facilities, but “the last couple of weeks have been very busy,” Thacker said, noting that staff have, at times, had to practice “hour-by-hour bed management.”
Though a dark cloud is surrounding the county, and much of the state, Thacker says there is reason to be hopeful.
“We’re starting to see a lot of positives,” he said.
New developments in out-patient treatment modalities, which Good Samaritan will soon have access too, combined with news of not one, but two, highly effective vaccines, offer a light at the end of the tunnel.
With designation as a 1A vaccine distribution site, Good Samaritan hospital is ramping up preparations to receive the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine, which Thacker believes will arrive sometime in December.
The first wave of vaccinations will go to healthcare and front-line workers, he said.
“With 94% efficacy, we’re looking forward to the impact a vaccine will have,” he said.
While there is much to look forward to in the near future, medical professionals and hospital officials say this is not the time to forget about masking or social distancing.
“These public health measures have been put in place because they work,” he said.
“Folks who aren’t following the restrictions because of the inconvenience of the mask — following the rules and masking is nothing compared to the risk of putting someone in the hospital,” said Thacker.
As families move toward the holidays, with Thanksgiving just one week away, Thacker urges caution when making plans, noting that those in high-risk groups should consider sheltering in place during the coming weeks.
“I hope everyone is very thoughtful about what their holiday interactions look like,” he said.
“I don’t know a single person at this point who has not been affected by COVID in some way. We’re past that point.”