Doctors: Hospital emergency rooms and staffs stretched thin

Hospital emergency rooms and staffs are stretched with overcapacity and long hours of work as they battle the COVID-19 pandemic, a panel of doctors said Wednesday.

They implored the public to help them in one way – the best way to fight the virus that has rapidly spread through the south and seeing more and more people get sick every day.

“Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate,” said Dr. Harold Naramore, with Blount Memorial Hospital. “Please consider the vaccination.”

A panel of doctors from all major East Tennessee health providers spoke in a press conference Wednesday to give information about the pandemic that is ripping through the area. It has left hospital beds full, ventilators used up and hospital staff working long hours.

Dr. James Shamiyeh, a doctor with UT Medical Center, said the numbers are not good. Compared to just a few months ago, deaths have went up.

“We’re averaging more than a death a day from COVID-19,” he said.

This is in contrast to last winter when the deadly surge took hundreds of lives in the Tennessee Valley. Shamiyeh said the difference between the two surges is remarkably different.

During that time, the spike was gradual. This time, the spike has shot up.

“What we’ve seen the last 30 days is steeper,” he said.

Mark Browne, senior medical officer at Covenant Health, said emergency departments are filled with people.

“We’re as full as we’ve ever been and some of our departments are seeing twice as much as they normally see this time of year,” he said.

It’s taking longer to get to patients who are seeking medical care and not in emergency situations, he said. He asked if anyone has mild symptoms to go to urgent care facilities or other alternative medical centers. He said the emergency rooms are just to stretched to the limit right now.

The amount of children seeking care has went down, said Dr. Joe Childs, with East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. But, they are also encountering some new problems. Viruses that are normally not associated with this time of year are becomming more prevalent.

“A lot of winter viruses are around as well and making kids sick as well,” he said.

The vaccinations have went through several peer reviews and studies, said Frank Beuelein, vice chief of staff for Tennova Health System. More than a billion people have been vaccinated worldwide and out of 200,000 people in East Tennessee who have been vaccinated, medical professionals have seen no significant problems, he said.

He said the number of people sick can be avoided.

“”Most of these can be avoided with vaccination,” he said.

Naramore painted a bleak picture of hospitals at this time. He said its just not nurses and doctors being affected. It’s the janitors, the cafeteria workers and anyone who has to work at the hospitals. He said everyone is being asked to work long hours.

He said if anyone walked through the area’s hospitals they would know that COVID-19 is very real. Naramore said people are quitting.

“It’s no secret that we have people who chose not to participate in this,” he said.

It’s only getting worse.

“There’s no staff to bring in,” he said. “We’re all doing what we can think of to get staff. But, there is no more staff to bring in.”