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Under stress,  providers brace for surge of virus / November 19, 2020

Around the country, hospitals are straining to treat a massive surge of patients with COVID-19, and while Virginia hospitals say the situation in the Commonwealth is not yet critical, frontline providers are fatigued and under enormous stress.

At Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital, “while our volumes change daily, we are able to care for our community while following necessary protocols to keep patients and staff safe,” said Joni Henderson, spokesperson for SHRH.

In the past nine days, four persons have died of covid-related causes in Halifax County, raising the local death toll to 12 since the pandemic’s onset. The Virginia Department of Health reported 751 cases in Halifax County through Wednesday, including more than 200 residents and staff members who have been sickened at South Boston Health and Rehab, formerly Sentara Woodview. The nursing home is now operated under the new name by Ohio-based Saber Healthcare.

Health care workers at the hospital, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, said there have been moments in recent days when they felt overwhelmed by patients showing up at the ER with the coronavirus.

Over the past weekend, “there were multiple Code Black calls, meaning we needed extra help and had to hold patients in the ER because there was nowhere else to send them,” said a nurse at Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital who wished to remain anonymous.

The ER has 18 beds, nine for emergencies and the others for non-emergency care. The Intensive Care Unit has been full this past week, too, although additional room is available to accommodate more patients.

The nurse said they are expecting more admissions with the dire situation at South Boston Health and Rehab: “We are preparing for a second round after Thanksgiving.”

COVID-19 patients that are not being treated in the Intensive Care Unit may be placed on the fourth and fifth hospital floors. These floors are newer and are equipped with negative air pressure systems to contain the flow of air through rooms, preventing pathogens from escaping to other parts of the floor.

The situation has brought misery to many. Covid patients are getting depressed due to their isolation and only being able to see family and friends via Facetime chats on their cellphones, if available. Some family members only get to see their sick relatives through plexiglass barriers as patients are intubated and unconscious.

Family members are stressed. They call daily to see if their loved ones have been retested, hoping to receive news of a negative test result. “It’s heartbreaking to tell them over and over they cannot come to visit,” said another nurse.

“It is so sad to watch people dying alone,” said one nurse.

Hospital staff are burned out, especially with the rise in cases this past month — and matters are getting worse. Every day when healthcare providers arrive at work, there are new protocols to follow, on top of not knowing if facilities will be understaffed and overwhelmed with patients. Workers say they are emotionally exhausted.

“It’s a whole new way of patient care and it’s very depressing. Some COVID-19 test results are false positives, some are false negatives, and some start to show symptoms right before they are about to go home and test positive,” said one nurse. “We do not know if they picked up the virus in the hospital. Covid is so new and confusing, even the doctors cannot figure out how it is happening.”

Sentara Healthcare, the Norfolk-based parent of Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital, announced this week that it is making plans to administer vaccine treatments to high-risk health care employees once a vaccine becomes safely available. The vaccines are optional and no one will be required to have them, Sentara officials said.

Sentara has assured employees and members of the public that the hospital system has a sufficient supply of PPE on hand to protect patients and providers from the disease. “We can assure our patients, employees, and community that we have an adequate supply of PPE and we continue to use new and existing partners to secure more. Sentara also continues to safely reprocess N-95 masks using a CDC-approved hydrogen peroxide misting process,” a hospital media statement issued this week said.

Speaking with two nurses at Sentara Halifax about the PPE, one said, “I have one N-95 per shift and use a disposable mask over top of my N-95. This way I can dispose of it and add a new one when rotating from one patient’s room to the next. Plus, disposable stethoscopes and goggles are available.”

In addition to wearing disposable masks over top of the N-95, “many of us wear multiple layers of gloves in case one pair gets a blood stain or other possible contaminant. The extra glove can be quickly removed and your hand is still protected,” said another nurse.

Health care employees are doing everything possible to deliver safe and efficient care to their patients, and keep their families at home safe. When employees get home, they spray down their clothing before entering the house and proceed straight to the laundry room to wash their scrubs.

“I worry all the time if I’m taking as many precautionary measures as possible,” said one nurse, adding the stress is “overwhelming.” The healthcare worker is also worried others may get tired of all the extra cleaning measures and begin to cut corners, which will add to the rise in COVID-19 cases.

On Tuesday, The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association’s board of directors and Virginia hospital leaders issued the following statement: “With the holiday season approaching following months of isolation, we recognize there is a temptation to get lax. Please resist that urge, Virginia. It is vital for everyone to continue taking the necessary steps to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.”

”We do encourage the communities we serve to wear masks, practice social distancing, and avoid large gatherings. By doing so, the communities can help emergency responders/paramedics as well as us, ensure that we are able to safely care for those who need our services,” said Henderson, spokesperson for SHRH.

Employees add that anyone who wishes to send food or treats to the hospital staff should know it’s extremely appreciated. Please remember all shifts, they add.

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Enourmous respect to the entire health carw commumity. THANK YOU. Im a local resident with many family members up north Queens, Bronx and Manhattan - i was there march and April. I saw 1st hand the freexer trucks with bodies the cemetaries that could not keep up with the dead. Rural communities had a chance to do better than big cities but the scamdemics really put you guys in a bad spot. If a major city with massive medical resources couldnt keep up... i wish you all health safety and pray for relief soon for everyone

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