COLUMBUS (WCMH) – With hospitalizations in Ohio higher than they’ve ever been, the job of frontline workers is becoming even more challenging.

The increasing COVID-19 hospitalization numbers are much more than numbers to frontline workers and for them, it’s more patients on their floors and more patients needing ventilators.

They said it’s hard continuing to see more people admitted to the intensive care unit, something happening not only locally, but across the state and country as well.

On Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine hosted a briefing with a number of hospital administrators from across the state, all of whom said the recent spike in COVID-19 cases has also come with a spike in hospitalizations and ICU admissions, pushing hospitals toward capacity.

Some of central Ohio’s most critically ill COVID-19 patients are in the ICU at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, where some fall under the care of Dr. Matthew Exline.

“We all come together, we say what are we doing for this patient today,” Exline, medical director for Medical ICU at Wexner. “A lot of it is just getting them through the day.”

That’s what is done every day, for every patient. Recently, the work’s become harder as hospitalizations continue to climb.

“The thing that makes it a harder struggle now is everyone has already been through this once, and so the adrenaline that propelled everyone through the first phase has kind of waned,” Exline said.

Often working 12 or more hours a day, for eight months, medical professionals in Wexner’s ICU department really want people to listen when it comes to mask wearing, social distancing, and celebrating the holidays differently.

“It is hard to continue to see people coming into our ICU with COVID and continuing to be sick,” said Hunter Jeffers, nurse manager for the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Wexner. “Our nurses, our respiratory therapists, our physicians, have all become experts in this because we’ve been doing it for eight months. Our patient outcomes are better, but we’re tired.

Exline agreed, saying that to a certain degree, the situation is better than it was in the spring because hospitals have improved treatment for coronavirus patients, and because of the recent announcements of vaccines being on the way.

“The concern is that everyone’s waiting for the peak and so you keep seeing the numbers rise and every day, we’re like, ‘OK, we can handle today, we can handle today,'” Exline said. “I think the apprehension from my staff and my team is what do we do if it keeps getting worse?”

By the time patients get to him, they’re usually on ventilators and can’t talk. Family members have told him their loved ones have contracted COVID-19 doing things they didn’t believe to be risky, behavior Exline wants to see stop.

“We only get there if we work hard now, and so, if  we just keep doing what we’re doing, it probably isn’t going to happen in the near future and a lot of other people are going to suffer in the meantime,” he said.

For eight months now, like nurses across the country, Jeffers and his team have been and continues to be on the front lines of the coronavirus fight.

“Doing this for 12 hours and going from room to room or doing chest compressions, it’s very hard work,” Jefferis said. “They are amazing at what they are doing, but they shouldn’t have to do this for this long.” 

Often, the nurses have to flip patients onto their stomachs so they can breathe better. Jeffers said the hardest part of the pandemic is when nurses have to hold iPads so families can have their last moments together.

“I hate that anyone has to do that job,” he said. “I don’t want anyone in our state to wait until one of their family members is in an ICU to take this pandemic seriously.”

As for what keeps them going, especially during some of those incredibly tough times, Jeffers said they’re all extremely supportive of each other.

Also, the success stories, seeing someone leave the ICU and though it may take a while, eventually going home, beating the virus.

However, Jeffers would like to see it not get to that point, and have people do what is necessary to keep themselves safe.

“I think a lot of families are starting to experience and COVID is affecting their lives and their loved ones are ending up in the hospital and that’s when they’re starting to take this seriously and that’s too late,” he said. “Everyone needs to take this seriously now.”

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