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ICU doctor shares frustration over rising COVID cases as hospital keeps eye on trend

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 10:36 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Inside the critical care unit at Topeka’s Stormont Vail Hospital, a new wave is rising.

Dr. Hassan Taha, an intensivist at Stormont, admits it’s frustrating to see, six months after dealing with records numbers that had the hospital creating extra space to care for more people.

“It is very hard that you’re seeing the same thing again,” he said.

The recent rise in COVID cases is once again stressing Kansas hospitals. Stormont has seen it’s number of COVID-positive in-patients more than triple over the past month. While it is far from the highs of November and December, it is still concerning as the rapidly-spreading Delta variant continues to sweep the state.

“With the first COVID spike, more of the patients were older. Now, all those older patients are vaccinated. Now we’re seeing a younger group of patients who are not vaccinated, who are very sick, who tend to do worse than before,” Dr. Taha said.

Dr. Taha said beds are again full. He said staff thinking the worst was behind them after last winter’s peak are worried another hill looms ahead.

“It’s very traumatizing, especially when this could have been prevented in somebody in his 40s or 50s who can lose, and who may lose their life,” he said.

Prevented, say both Dr. Taha and Stormont vice president and infectious disease specialist Dr. Clifton Jones, if the half of the state’s population not doing so would get the COVID vaccine. Dr. Jones says other factors also are driving case numbers.

“A year ago at this time, we still had some acceptance of the need to be careful group settings. There was reluctance but a higher acceptance of use of face masks in public places, and there were more limited opportunities to be around large groups in public places,” he said.

Dr. Jones said an increase in COVID patients is coupled with more traumatic injuries, major illnesses, and regular medical procedures as people return to more normal activities.

So far, Stormont has not had to re-activate any of the additional spaces converted at the height of the pandemic last winter, and they have no plans to suspend or delay surgeries and other procedures. But they have taken steps to maximize staffing and available beds.

“We’re looking to increase staffing in our patient care areas in the hospital. We’re setting up some additional training for people who are still licensed to provide patient care but have not been,” Dr. Jones said.

Stormont has not had to transfer any of its patients, but has had to turn down some requests to take patients from other hospitals.

At this point, Dr. Jones said Stormont is not requiring its employees to get vaccinated. However, they do plan to have conversations with the approximately 30 percent who’ve opted out.

“(We want to know) what would make them more comfortable to receive the vaccine, what steps we could take to bring more people on board?” he said.

Dr. Jones and Dr. Taha say having an available vaccine is the difference in stopping another spike.

“I want to be optimistic. I’m trying to be optimistic,” Dr. Jones said when asked if he felt we’re at the worst of the current spike.

Both encourage anyone with doubts to talk to their doctor - not consult social media.

“People talk about it (on social media) - they have no medical background,” Dr. Taha said. “The vaccine is safe. It saves lives.”

COVID vaccines are free. To find medical offices, pharmacies, and upcoming community outreach clinics near you, visit our COVID-19 resources page.

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