BOONE — Appalachian Regional Healthcare System announced that it has added a third COVID-19 isolation unit and is currently caring for 21 COVID-19 patients as of Aug. 18 at Watauga Medical Center.
On Aug. 16, Rob Hudspeth, senior vice president for system advancement at ARHS, said the hospital had two COVID-19 units and only 11 patients. ARHS stated Aug. 18 that there are not enough ICU-level trained medical professionals to care for the current surge of COVID-19 patients.
“COVID-19 rates are going up, again, in the High Country and hospitalization rates have followed,” said Chuck Mantooth, president and CEO of ARHS, in a statement. “Our staff are working 24/7 to plan and manage this latest surge but we are experiencing a shortage of staff.”
Watauga Medical Center treats COVID-19 patients from Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties as well as other nearby counties.
ARHS said the three hospital COVID-19 isolation units have the capacity to care for up to 25 critically ill COVID-19 patients. The hospital also has the ability to increase the number of beds to care for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related conditions.
According to ARHS, most large healthcare systems are at capacity and are currently “closed to transfers.”
The Triad HealthCare Preparedness Coalition region — which includes Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Caldwell, Catawba, Davie, Davidson, Forsyth, Guilford, Iredell, Randolph, Rockingham, Rowan, Stokes, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes and Yadkin — had 677 people in the hospital with 174 people in the intensive care unit as of Aug. 18
Two people have died from COVID-19 in the last three weeks at WMC, according to ARHS.
ARHS stated that approximately 80 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated and those patients require higher levels of respiratory support. WMC has 20 ventilators.
Patients who have received the vaccine have minimal symptoms, and none have required ventilators or intensive levels of care.
ARHS stated the hospital has space that could be converted for additional COVID-19 units, however more ICU-level trained staff would be needed to manage the units. ARHS stated that — like many hospitals across the country — it is experiencing critical staffing levels. ARHS stated its staff are working longer hours and covering more shifts.
Patients range in age from infants to 90 years of age, but most patients are between 50-60 years of age.
ARHS has created a pediatric work group that consists of hospitalists, pediatricians, and staff from the birthing center, respiratory therapy and critical care management to prepare for a potential surge in pediatric populations.
ARHS has also established a COVID-19 Virtual Hospital to assist in helping less acute COVID-19 patients recover while quarantined at home. These patients receive oxygen, a pulse oximeter, daily calls from nurse navigators to check vital signs and are provided an emergency number if their symptoms worsen. ARHS is currently working with the county to augment those services.
The number of patients in the COVID-19 Virtual Hospital have been increasing by four each day, according to ARHS.
As of Aug. 24, AppHealthCare reports Watauga County has 87 active COVID-19 cases while Ashe County has 65.