Hospital leaders meet virtually, exchange stats, ideas, warnings

Because Knox County hospitals in general, and their emergency room departments specifically, are in a backlog trying to treat patients with COVID-19, those experiencing mild symptoms of any kind are encouraged “to seek alternative places to get your care” instead of an ER, said Dr. Mark Brown, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Covenant Health.

“If you come to the emergency room with milder symptoms, your wait is going to be longer,” he added while pointing out those seeking a COVID test should not go to any hospital emergency room.

Brown joined leaders from University of Tennessee Medical Center, Tennova Healthcare, Blount Memorial Hospital and East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in a COVID-19 virtual roundtable Wednesday, Sept. 15, to discuss and share the most recent, and distressing, local COVID statistics.

“What we’re seeing this time around, over the last 30 days, is a much steeper rise,” said Dr. James E. Shamiyeh, senior vice president and chief operating officer at UTMC. “Actually, that’s extended well before the last 30 days.”

Comparing Monday, Sept. 13, versus “the winter peak of COVID-19, “We have 61 more (COVID) patients in the hospital, 31 more patients in the ICU,” Shamiyeh said. “We have 33 more people on the ventilator than we had at the winter peak.”

As recent as July 10 at UTMC, “We only had five patients with COVID in the hospital,” he added. “We had two COVID patients on the ventilator, and 31 non-COVID patients on the ventilator.”

Slightly more than two months later, Sept. 13, “We had 35 with COVID on the ventilator and 29 (COVID) not on the ventilator,” Shamiyeh said. “Right now, 70 percent of our ICU beds house patients who are on a ventilator or breathing machine. When we didn’t have this amount of COVID, it was 36 percent.”

As a result, “sicker patients than normal are outside the ICU,” he added. “It’s harder to create extra ICU beds than it is to create extra regular beds because of the level of nursing expertise required to take care of critically ill patients.”

Moreover, “We know that critically ill patients are more likely to develop kidney failure, and so they may need temporary dialysis,” Shamiyeh said. “… You don’t hear people talk about dialysis access.”

Also on July 10 at UTMC, out of that hospital’s 480 regular bedded rooms, “Only 1 percent of those beds were taking care of patients with COVID-19,” he added. “Then, just a few days ago, it was 28 percent of those beds.

“… We’re experiencing, on average, more than a death per day from COVID-19.”

Brown said, “Not only are we as full as we’ve ever been, some of our hospitals are seeing two times as many emergency department patients as they routinely see.

“We are also experiencing longer wait times in our emergency departments, not only for patients to be seen because of the volumes, but also for patients to be transferred upstairs,” he added. “… It is taking much longer for all of our health systems to get patients out of emergency department that normally we would transfer out in short order.”

However, “If anyone is experiencing severe symptoms — you’re having chest pains, if you’re having stroke-like symptoms, if you’re having shortness of breath —” among other severe symptoms, “We want you to come to the emergency department,” Brown said. “(Don’t) delay your care.”