Credit: Grant Blankenship / GPB News
COVID Surge Among The Middle-Aged Threatens Hospital Emergency Care
Across Georgia, emergency rooms are slammed and intensive care units are diverting patients, sometimes out of state. The common thread is a spike in severe COVID-19 cases among the unvaccinated middle-aged.
"This is, generally speaking, a younger patient population ... 40s and 50, whereas before we were seeing more elderly patients, 70s, 80s," said Dr. Patrice Walker, Chief Medical Officer at the Medical Center at Atrium in Macon. "All the ventilator patients are unvaccinated."
The Medical Center is one of the five Level 1 trauma centers in the state, a group that includes Grady Hospital in Atlanta. All five hospitals have been shifting back and forth this week across the line of being either close to or past capacity for emergency, trauma or intensive patient care.
At the Augusta University Medical Center, much of Tuesday was off limits to incoming ambulance traffic.
At Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, leaders began raising the alarm last week about spiking numbers of COVID-19 inpatients. On Tuesday, the main hospital campus cared for 101 patients.
“Our admission rate remains high, with 18 new COVID patients admitted to our hospitals since [Monday] morning,” Phoebe Putney Health System President and CEO Scott Steiner said in a written release. "Many of them are younger patients, and 87% of our current COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated."
The flush of new COVID-19 patients threatens hospitals’ ability to perform inpatient elective surgeries, which are a main engine of revenue.
“As of today, we have had to curtail elective surgical cases so that we can utilize the staff that normally works in our operating room and our procedural areas and use them in other areas,” said Dr. Patrice Walker of Medical Center at Atrium.
By Wednesday morning, the Medical Center was diverting all ambulances, even ones headed for its regional neonatal intensive care unit. The major for-profit hospitals in Macon were diverting all emergency ambulances, too.
At Phoebe Putney, administrators are being more deliberate about scheduling elective surgeries but not yet pausing them outright.
Walker also said the challenges of the delta surge are compounded by the loss of front-line health care workers who, after living through the earlier pandemic, decided to leave the career.
“I think people are deciding, ‘Let me think about what brings me joy,’” Walker said. “And if health care is not that, we've seen a lot of people choose to do other things.”
Recent data from the Georgia Department of Public Health on COVID-19 cases in the fully vaccinated still show that almost none of the cases since January of this year, barely 2%, have been so-called “breakthrough” cases.