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Centra in grim situation

Centra Health officials provided information Wednesday, Aug. 25, to what doctors have described as an “increasingly grim situation” at the health care provider’s hospitals.

During a specially called Wednesday afternoon press conference, Centra Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Chris Lewis noted officials are preparing for a difficult road ahead as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise and record-breaking numbers of patients flood the emergency room at Lynchburg General Hospital.

Lewis said on Monday night, Aug. 23, Lynchburg General had 72 patients in its ER waiting room, a new record for the hospital. In fact, Lynchburg at one point during the night had a total of 136 patients in its ER, a number which typically doesn’t rise above 100.

A difficult situation for caregivers as well as patients, Lewis said these unprecedented numbers meant approximately 30 ER patients were waiting for a bed Monday night as the hospital sat at 100% capacity.

“They were in the ER and had nowhere to go because our hospital was completely full.”

Lewis said the situation, beyond anything Centra has seen in recent memory, may be attributed to a variety of causes.

Health care systems have been straining across the country for some time now. Lewis said while the influx of patients can certainly be partially attributed to patients coming in with respiratory issues, some with COVID and some without, doctors have noticed a strange phenomenon in which many patients seeking help for medical issues come in sicker and worse-off than ever before.

Some people, he added, theorize this may be due to a large number of individuals avoiding medical centers and hospitals during the pandemic, putting off health problems and deferring care until the situation becomes dire.

In addition to staggering numbers of ER visits, the hospital, Lewis said, continues to expand its COVID-19 unit.

As of Wednesday, he said, Lynchburg General had 70 COVID-positive patients on its floors, a huge jump from the 45 patients the hospital was treating a week and a half ago. 14 of those 70 patients are in the ICU, eight of which are also actively being ventilated.

Lewis said those 70 patients are currently taking up the entire pulmonary and oncology floors, which are both now full. With a capacity of 72 beds, the hospital is immensely close to needing to expand the COVID-19 floor into another unit, but this will take beds away for treatments of other medical conditions.

Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville is also almost at capacity. The hospital, Lewis said, can stretch to accept up to 16 COVID patients and as of Wednesday had a total of 13, two of which were offloaded from Lynchburg General and another two which were taken from the ER at Centra Gretna Medical Center in Pittsylvania.

Lynchburg General, Lewis said, has already had 21 COVID-19 deaths at the hospital in the month of August. More deaths are anticipated.

Of the 70 patients in the COVID unit as of Wednesday, six were fully vaccinated. Most if not all of the hospital’s COVID-ICU patients were unvaccinated.

On Aug. 16, Centra announced it would be requiring vaccination against COVID-19 for all 7,600 employees.

Centra Senior Vice President and Chief Transformation Officer Michael Elliott noted Monday the health care provider was aware of nine employees who announced they had plans to resign at a later date due to the decision, less than 0.2%.

In order to handle the overwhelming figures seen in the ER and on the COVID floors, Centra, Lewis said, is moving once again to cancel certain elective surgeries.

Additionally, the health care provider has implemented a code disaster staffing policy which allows hospitals to use “floating nurses” who can be reassigned to different units and assist on floors where they’re desperately needed. Centra has also started a helping hands program in order to find and use caregivers in different roles to help nurses who are being stretched beyond their abilities.

Lynchburg, he added, will continue to offload some patients to Southside and Centra Bedford Memorial Hospital.

Officials noted Wednesday Lynchburg General does not go into diversion and turn patients away, as there are no other hospitals in Lynchburg for patients to go to.

With the health care system straining, Lewis asked community members to support the hospital by providing understanding and kindness to caregivers and avoiding a trip to the ER for a non-emergency medical situation.

“That’s how we will get through.”