Local healthcare workers are frustrated. They are working tirelessly to save lives in the community and are pleading for help to slow the spread of Covid- 19.
"Everybody is tired; there are long days, long nights, and uncomfortable gear," Dr. Jay Pinkerton, George Regional Health System Chief of Staff, said. "But we are doing everything we can, and we'll keep doing everything we can. Healthcare workers who work here also live here. They know the community. They know the patients. In that way, morale is good because everybody is pitching in," he said. "We've had Covid-positive nurses working who have little or no symptoms because they know they are needed. In such situations, those nurses work the Covid unit because they can't spread it to someone who already has it."
Pinkerton said the decision to work Covid-positive nurses is not by choice, but by necessity. "That's why there is a sign on the door saying we are operating under 'Crisis Operations,' which means Covid-19 positive employees may be allowed to work to care for the sick. Obviously if they are too sick to work, they don't. And if they do work, we mitigate the risk by putting them with Covid patients. This is happening all over the country. If you are losing doctors and nurses, who is going to care for the patients?"
Details about GRHS's Crisis Operations can be found online at georgeregional.com. These details include working Covid positive employees, the risks of visitors and patients being exposed to Covid-19, mask mandates, controlled entrances and exits and more. Hospitals across the state have operated under crisis conditions since July 28 on a mandate from the Mississippi State Department of Health. Working Covid positive nurses does not mean other businesses or institutes should work infected employees; hospitals are equipped to mitigate risks in such situations.
Some hospital employees are starting to burn out, starting to get tired. "Day after day of hearing 'the virus doesn't exist' or hearing people say 'don't take away my rights,' or 'don't make me wear a mask,' or 'don't tell me what to do' hurts our staff who are trying to do all they can to save lives. Most of what we're seeing could have been avoided," Pinkerton said.
George County's Covid-19 numbers were relatively low in June with only three Covid patients admitted the entire month and a five percent positivity rate among tests. However, those numbers began to change in July. Now, Community Medical Center (part of GRHS) administers about 200 tests per day at its drive-through testing center. Those numbers do not include the patients seen at other healthcare clinics in the area surrounding George County.
George County's numbers have surpassed what was seen in 2020 when the first wave of the pandemic hit. In early 2021, when vaccines became available about 24 percent of the county's 25,000 citizens became inoculated. The remaining residents opted out of the vaccination opportunity.
In previous Covid cases, the majority of serious illness and death was seen in the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. The current wave, the Delta strand, is attacking 20, 30, and 40-year-old healthy adults, primarily ones who are unvaccinated. It's also becoming more prevalent among children. "Before vaccines, nearly every admitted patient would be over age 65. Now some of those age groups are vaccinated. Six of the 13 patients in-house today are under age 60. Our youngest patient is 26. I looked at data last week. One day we had 16 patients admitted with Covid and only two had any vaccine," Pinkerton said at press time.
A registered nurse shared her frustration. "I'm a nurse so when I see someone sick or suffering, I want to help make them better. But, it's very frustrating to me right now when I have a patient who shouldn't be hospitalized and shouldn't be so sick. The ones who are so sick, the ones who are in intensive care, are the unvaccinated. I am not saying all people need to get vaccinated. I realize people have strong opinions on that. What I am saying is people should either get vaccinated or they should stay home right now and if they have to get out in public they should mask up," Karen Scott, R.N., said.
Scott said it is painful for a nurse to look into the eyes of patients and see so much suffering. "We're there. We're nurses. We're going to help them. I just feel like some of this could have been prevented," she said.
The problem is not simply having beds or having staff to man those beds. It goes deeper in that GRHS, as well as every hospital in the state, is incapable of serving typical medical needs. Two weeks ago, George Regional "transferred a patient to Nashville because that was the closest bed," Pinkerton said.
The Emergency Room has 12 beds and between four and eight of those have housed Covid patients this week and last week because the Intensive Care Unit is full. The ICU has six beds. At press time a total of 13 patients in the hospital were receiving care for Covid. Of those, six were on ventilators and four were on hold in the Emergency Room. Others were in regular hospital rooms. ER patients, who don't have Covid, sometimes have to wait hours in their vehicles outside the Emergency Room until staff can help them. Compounding that problem is the concern that a large crisis, such as a bus accident, would be difficult to manage.
The data from June indicates low risk factors for George Countians existed earlier in the summer. However, that was before the Delta variant made its way to George County and fully vaccinated people, in June, were 95 percent safe from contracting the virus. "Fast-forward to July, and we have the Delta variant which is two to six times more contagious. It's like chicken pox as far as how contagious it is, but chicken pox is not deadly," Pinkerton said. "Now you have about 70 to 80 percent protection. Even if you are vaccinated you have a 20 to 30 percent chance of getting Covid. So, even if you are vaccinated you should wear a mask if indoors with a group of people." According to Pinkerton, unvaccinated people have a higher chance of catching it and a higher chance of having a more severe case.
According to statistics directly from GRHS and not from other sources submitted to the MSDH, positivity rates from GRHS's testing results showed five percent in June. In July it was 26 percent. More precisely, out of 1,109 tests, 288 of those were positive. Of those figures 222 were ages 0-18 years, of which 41 tested positive (or 18 percent). Numbers for August 1-15 show 2,441 have been tested, of which 730 were positive (or 30 percent). Of the August data, 500 of those tested were ages 0-18 years of age and 209 of those minors tested positive (41 percent). "The biggest increase we're seeing is in the 0-18 year old group, which is going to spread it to everyone else in their families," Pinkerton said.
On top of the fact staffers are overworked and frustrated, they are also without a cafeteria. The hospital's cafeteria was quite old and is being remodeled to not only serve patients and staff but also to become a community diner. While the hospital has outsourced meals for patients, its employees must pack a sack lunch most days. The hospital has brought in some meals for workers but not every shift every day. Some church groups and community organizations are providing meals or goodie baskets.
One phase of the coronavirus pandemic that gives Pinkerton much concern is the misinformation being broadcast to the public. Pinkerton is not only Chief of Staff; he is GRHS's obstetrician and gynecologist. In that role he is seeing young pregnant females who get their news and information from unfounded sources on Facebook and social media sites instead of credible journalism.
Pinkerton said current expert medical advice is that pregnant women should get vaccinated. That comes from American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Prior to the Delta variant the association stated not to disallow the vaccine to pregnant women and to let them know it was safe. However, at that time pregnant women were not catching it, and if they did, they only had the sniffles and flu-like symptoms. Nowadays they are catching it, getting very sick, and having to be hospitalized. "In some cases (across the country), they are delivering a baby while on a ventilator and sometimes the mother doesn't survive," he said.
Award-winning journalist Nancy Jo Maples has been writing about Mississippi people and places for more than 30 years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org