COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Central Ohio’s frontline healthcare workers are pleading for community support. Their calls for everyone to get vaccinated, boostered and use mitigation strategies come as the region’s hospital systems strain under the latest surge of COVID-19.
“It’s been over 600 days of fighting and we’re tired. We’re asking for your help,” said Tracie Hayes, a COVID-19 surge unit nurse manager at Mount Carmel Health System.
Hayes was one of several nurses who joined hospital system leaders, the Columbus Public Health commissioner and others for a press briefing Tuesday morning.
The group recounted frontline experiences, hoping to humanize the pandemic toll.
“It’s breaking my heart everyday and continuing to see people die when I know that it can be prevented,” said Jennifer Hollis, a nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU) at OhioHealth’s Riverside Methodist Hospital.
Nate Royster, an ER nurse at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center added, “It’s very hard to kind of be there and be the person who sorts who gets a bed and who doesn’t.”
A combination of staffing shortages and growing demand for care is taking a toll on Central Ohio hospitals. Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts explained the latest surge is compounding issues in recent weeks.
She said in one month, Franklin County’s positivity rate has skyrocketed from 8.6% to 11.4%. Hospitalizations have climbed more than 2% in less than a week. Health leaders believe the highly contagious omicron variant is partially to blame for the spike.
They point to an even more precarious situation in Northeast Ohio as a harbinger, where many of the 1,050 Ohio National Guard members are being deployed to assist in clinical and non-clinical settings. Hospitals in that region are experiencing an even more dramatic surge and staffing shortage.
Nurses at Tuesday’s press conference said they’re tired, heartbroken and frustrated to see many of the most severe cases and virtually all of the deaths they’ve seen were among unvaccinated individuals.
“They’re asking me for a miracle. And I am so sad… because that’s all I’m seeing around me – are miracles everyday. We asked and prayed for people to save our lives. And they gave us a vaccine,” Hollis said.
The group implored those who aren’t already to get vaccinated and urged others to get a booster shot. Ahead of holiday gatherings they encourage everyone to get tested before gathering with friends and family and to stay home if they’re not feeling well.
“I feel like I speak on behalf of a lot of ICU nurses across the state and across the country as well. Please help us help you,” said Hollis.
When asked about the possibility of another auxiliary hospitalization site, like the temporary site constructed at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in 2020, health leaders explained they do not have the manpower to staff such an operation.
The Columbus Public Health commissioner said she called the Ohio Department of Health to request more at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits, since CPH ran out of its supply over the weekend.