The University of Kansas Health System reports another drop in the number of active COVID patients today. 38 patients with the active virus are being treated, down from 40 yesterday. Only seven of those 38 are vaccinated. Sadly, the health system has seen eight deaths from COVID since last Saturday, two of those just yesterday. That’s 30 deaths so far in September, compared to 17 for the whole month last year. The average age of those admitted to the hospital is ten years younger than during previous surges. 13 patients are in the ICU, the same as yesterday. Seven are on ventilators, down from eight yesterday. 41 other patients are still hospitalized because of COVID but are out of the acute infection phase, down from 42 yesterday. That’s a total of 79 patients, down from 82 yesterday and 92 last Friday. HaysMed has 14 total patients, up from 13 yesterday.
On today’s Morning Medical Update, we heard from an ICU pharmacist and a respiratory therapist about the current COVID surge and how it compares to this time last year. They discussed what it's like caring for COVID patients now that we have a vaccine available, and talked about why respiratory therapists are quitting their jobs.
The job of a respiratory therapist, especially for a COVID patient, is vital and demanding. Just ask Julie Rojas, who works in the ICU at the health system. Her workload has increased lately as 15 fellow RT’s have quit in the last month due to exhaustion and frustration. She wants patients to know they will still get excellent care, but it might take a little longer. Julie knows all too well the long hours, sometimes spending more time during a week at the hospital than at home. And she says it’s frustrating for all of them to see so many people with life-threatening COVID who could have avoided it with a vaccination, unlike this time last year when vaccines were not yet available. Last year the common sentiment among COVID patients in the ICU was, “I wish I hadn’t gone to that party.” This year it’s “I wish I had gotten the vaccine.” Success stories such as, “liberating people off the ventilator,” are what make the job rewarding and keep her going. She also described the practice of turning some COVID patients on their stomach, or “proning,” and how having the lungs facing down helps them breathe easier and helps the lungs heal. Her job is to make patients as comfortable as possible. She described how gut-wrenching it was when all family members were banned from the ICU, and how she had to hold many a patient’s hand as they said goodbye to their families through an iPad. That’s eased a bit as some family members are allowed to be there at the end. She says it breaks her heart to see all of the young unvaccinated people coming in who thought it would never happen to them. Her best advice is, “I just would like people to be kind to each other. We’re all trying our best out there to do what’s best for our community and our family and keep people safe.” She adds, “Just listen to the experts and take their advice and don’t take your own data and turn it into ‘COVID being a farce,’ that it doesn’t exist, because it really does exist. I feel like a lot of the healthcare community is feeling the burnout and feeling the pressure because people don’t think it’s real, and it’s very real.”
Jace Knutson is a pharmacist in the ICU. He says, “The work feels heavy right now,” as most days the ICU beds are full of COVID patients. He calls it “a tough pill to swallow,” when the hospital has to turn away very sick patients because there’s no room. He says the mood among the staff has changed from hopeful last winter when vaccines became available to frustrating now at all of the needless admissions with severe COVID cases. The challenge is COVID patients stay a lot longer than the average ICU patient, and his staff must often adjust to make sure they are getting the right medications at the right time and in the right way. He says COVID patients are also slow to recover but often quick to go downhill. It’s also challenging to keep ahead of the supplies and medicines to avoid shortages of both. He calls it “disheartening” when a medical professional advises against vaccines or masking, but says in his experience that’s rare. He wants people to know that they need to get vaccinated as soon as possible because, “When you come to the hospital with acute infection, the best intervention is past us.”
Dana Hawkinson, MD, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at The University of Kansas Health System, is optimistic and somewhat happy at the recent downward trend in the COVID numbers, but says it’s very unfortunate that we continue to have deaths which are entirely preventable. He thinks it’s sad that it takes the death of a loved one or a friend to change the minds of the vaccine resistant, especially since the science shows they work. He agrees there has been some confusion over booster shots, but says right now the only people recommended to get one are those who are immunocompromised. He also says the makeup of the booster shots is identical to the original shots. When it comes to vaccines, he believes too many people are picking and choosing information that fits their beliefs rather than seeking credible scientific sources. He stresses there is no doubt the vaccines work and keep people from severe illness, hospitalization and death.
Wednesday, September 15 at 8:00 a.m. is Open Mics With Dr. Stites. We’ll take a close look at how insurance is changing for COVID patients.
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