Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken said Genesis Health System has "reached the brink of a breaking point" as COVID-19 tears through the Quad-Cities and Iowa at rates never before seen during the pandemic, overloading hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs).
Approximately 1,000 new positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Scott County since Friday.
Croken spoke during a special Scott County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday morning to approve a resolution declaring Friday, Nov. 27, as Scott County Hospital Health Care Workers Appreciation Day.
Croken, during the virtual meeting, said he had been texting back and forth that morning with Genesis President and CEO Doug Cropper.
On Sunday, Genesis Health System in the Quad Cities reported a record 117 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, Croken said. As of Monday morning, that number had increased to 131 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, according to Genesis Health.
The Rock Island County Health Department on Monday reported a record 70 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Rock Island County hospitals.
"We keep setting records we don't want to set," Cropper said.
Genesis Health System spokesman Craig Cooper said the hospital's intensive care unit has transitioned to an incident command model operating seven days a week due to the surge in hospitalized patients.
Cooper said Genesis' primary ICU is filled with COVID-19 patients and has converted its orthopedic unit into a 60-bed COVID-19 unit, and have doubled up patients with two to a room. He said the hospital was also readying to add a second surge in beds from 26 to 36.
"We reduced elective surgeries starting today, which frees up ... beds and staff. We can reallocate staff," Cooper said. "But it's not really a matter of finding beds. ... It's having enough nurses to provide patient care, not just for COVID patients, but for everybody else."
Croken said Genesis is currently averaging about 150 health care workers out, either because they've tested positive for the virus or are quarantining. Cooper said he could not provide an exact number, but said the figure cited by Croken was "probably accurate."
"It's getting worse by the minute," Croken said. "Morale is a larger concern," and added "the fatigue and stress of caring for so many critically ill patients have to be overwhelming at times."
"We've reached the brink of a breaking point here," Croken said.
Cooper echoed the sentiment. Currently, "it's a manageable crisis," he said. But, that could all change in a matter of days or weeks, should new COVID-19 cases continue to spike and hospitalizations more than double.
"If New Jersey and New York were a 10 on the critical scale, we are an 8-plus," Cooper said. "It’s a manageable crisis as of today, but the number of COVID patients has gone up so fast. Two weeks ago, 40 to 50 (people hospitalized with COVID-19) was a lot of COVID patients. Since March (when the pandemic began), we’ve never seen anything like this as far as the total number of COVID patients hospitalized."
He said Genesis has been able to transfer some patients to Iowa City and Peoria to free up room and relieve overwhelmed health care workers, "but it’s becoming more difficult because everyone is facing the same issues."
"The average length of stay for COVID patients, they may be there for weeks," Cooper said. "In the meantime, there’s additional patients coming in. It puts pressure on the system, because you’re getting new patients every day that may require a week, two weeks or more of treatment. It can be a day or two up to as high as three months. So you hit capacity pretty quickly when you’re keeping patients for weeks at a time."
Dr. Toyosi Olutade, chief medical officer for UnityPoint Health - Trinity, said 95 patients were hospitalized across its campuses in the Quad-Cities on Monday — more than triple what it saw during the height of the pandemic in the spring and five times that of what hospitals saw this summer. Of those 95 hospitalized, 33 were in intensive care.
Like Genesis, UnityPoint last week canceled elective procedures requiring overnight hospital stays and have brought in trauma surgeons, anesthesiologists, physicians and mid-level staff to work in overrun ICUs.
"Typically, we have a maximum of 30 ICU beds," Olutade said. "Right now, we're running at 40 to 45 beds, and 33 of those are patients with COVID-19. ... It’s all hands on deck right now."
Additionally, Olutade said UnityPoint has paired staff from other departments "who do not do direct patient care," but who have a nursing background, with hospital staff working in pods to provide patient care and "to stretch out our resources to take care of patients."
"We’ve seen the compassion and support and resiliency in our staff to take care of patients," Olutade said. "Sometimes we do not know how much more our staff can take."
Starting this week, he said UnityPoint was introducing a "hospital-at-home model ... so hospital resources will be preserved."
"About 10% of (COVID) patients end up in the hospital," Olutade said. "Under this model, we follow the patients right after they’re diagnosed with COVID and are able to have virtual visits and home care visits and means of monitoring oxygen levels, and implement steroids and treatment at home in time before they come into the hospital — monitoring the patients closer at home."
But, like Genesis, the challenge lies in being able to maintain the hospitals’ most valuable asset – its workers – which cannot so easily be increased.
As of last week, about 120 local UnityPoint health care workers were out sick or quarantining, Olutade said. That number was expected to drop somewhat Monday as some workers ended their quarantine.
"But they’re getting exposed on a daily basis," Olutade said. "And it's not transmission in the hospital and primarily community-based exposures and transmission" that is sidelining health care workers.
Both Olutade and Cooper pleaded with Quad-City residents to stay home as much as possible, limit their outings and forgo family gatherings this holiday season.
"We're doing everything we can to care for the community … but the biggest impact will come from really adhering to masking and social distancing and avoiding large crowds," Olutade said. "We have not yet hit our peak. We know we are going to see more patients. We know we will cross 100 patients (hospitalized) before the end of today. We are asking the community to do all they can not to spread this virus."
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