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Atrium Health requests federal support to alleviate COVID-19 hospital capacity constraints

N.C. has set daily COVID-19-related hospitalization records through January, hitting a high of 4,741 on Thursday.
North Carolina state health officials are requesting federal support for the Charlotte region to help alleviate hospital capacity constraints
Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 11:07 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 21, 2022 at 11:45 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – North Carolina state health officials are requesting federal support for the Charlotte region to help alleviate hospital capacity constraints brought on by the highly-contagious COVID-19 omicron variant.

According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the state is acting in partnership with Atrium Health with a request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response for staffing support.

“As we enter the third year of this pandemic, health care workers have shown extreme resiliency over the past two years, time and time again, rising to meet the needs of the community when COVID cases surge,” said officials with Atrium Health. “But, as a community-based hospital system who cares for all, we need more health providers to ensure the availability and the high levels of care that people rightly expect continues, especially now with each day seemingly bringing a new record number of admissions.”

State health officials said Atrium Health reported it has employed numerous strategies to stretch its capacity, including redeploying staff from urgent care and outpatient centers; limiting non-urgent procedures; closing specialty centers; and using additional state-provided flexibilities, as outlined in a letter NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley sent to hospitals last week.

“Despite these actions, the health system is currently above 95 percent capacity,” according to the NCDHHS.

Kinsley said the vast majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

N.C. has set daily COVID-19-related hospitalization records through January, hitting a high of 4,741 on Thursday.

Overall, hospitalizations increased 23 percent for the week ending Jan. 17, as compared to the week prior, according to state health leaders.

N.C. has set daily COVID-19-related hospitalization records through January, hitting a high of 4,741 on Thursday.

On Friday, the North Carolina Nurses Association told WBTV that all hospitals are feeling the pinch as they handle increased capacity because of Omicron.

“We are at the breaking point I think and the unfortunate part is, is there’s no good quick fix to it,” said Dr. Dennis Taylor, Immediate Past President of North Carolina Nurses Association.

Prior to Friday’s announcement, Atrium Health’s Enterprise Chief Epidemiologist stressed the importance of masking and getting vaccinated when she spoke with reporters on Thursday.

“It’s frustrating that we are still here fighting the fight but the good news is doing those things still have impact. it protects you from ending up in the hospital severely ill,” said Dr. Katie Passaretti, the vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist at Atrium Health.

“Vaccines and boosters continue to provide the strongest protection against COVID-19 serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths. Unvaccinated individuals make up 72 percent of hospitalizations and 83 percent of COVID-19-related ICU admissions statewide,” NCDHHS officials said. “Everyone age 5 and older should get a COVID-19 vaccine, and everyone 12 and older should get a booster as soon as they are eligible.”

“There’s no quick fix. But, you know, the real fix to all of it is for those people who are unvaccinated to get vaccinated. That’s going to be the number one thing that’s going to help us,” Dr. Taylor said.

The immediate past president of the Nurses Association believes any resources from the federal government would help Atrium Health and hopes this recent call for assistance makes a difference in relieving pressure from frontline workers helping all of us when we need help the most.

“Certainly, assistance with being able to find additional staff to be able to be here. As we’ve said in the past, it’s not so much an issue of capacity in the terms of number of beds. What’s been the biggest issue is the staff to be able to take care of patients when we put them in those beds,” Dr. Taylor said.

VACCINE TEAM: Complete coverage

Earlier this month, FEMA provided the state with 25 ambulances, DHHS leaders said. They have been deployed to 11 counties and are currently scheduled to remain in North Carolina until Feb. 3.

Related: ‘A drop in the bucket’: FEMA to assist Meck County MEDIC due to COVID staff shortages, increased call volume

“It’s important that people take COVID-19 seriously – especially the highly contagious Omicron variant – and continue to wear masks when around others, keep a safe distance from people, practice good hand hygiene and, most importantly, by getting the recommended vaccinations and booster when available,” officials with Atrium Health said.

“More than 92 percent of COVID patients on life support in our hospitals are unvaccinated. If everyone who was eligible to be vaccinated got their shots, we would all be well-positioned for a return to normalcy in our daily lives.”

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