Sep. 21—LIMA — The highly contagious delta variant of coronavirus has created a "dire" and "precarious" situation for Lima hospitals: There are now few intensive-care unit beds available in Lima, despite the wide availability of vaccines that protect against severe coronavirus infections.
"We can't stretch our critical care resources much further than they are right now," said Dr. Matthew Owens, chief clinical officer for Mercy Health-St. Rita's Medical Center.
St. Rita's saw so many critically ill patients over the weekend that its intensive care unit had essentially no capacity left and no place to transfer patients, resulting in the ICU operating at twice its typical maximum capacity, Owens said.
On Tuesday, the Ohio Department of Health estimated 97% of patients hospitalized with the disease are unvaccinated.
"If you are young and unvaccinated, it's now probably only a question of when, not if, you get COVID-19," ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said during a press conference Tuesday.
"When you get COVID-19 without the protection of a vaccine, there is a very real risk you'll end up in the hospital or the obituary pages," Vanderhoff said. "The numbers really tell it all: COVID has changed and is now making younger Ohioans who are not vaccinated very sick. Don't become a statistic when there is a simple, safe and effective alternative. Go out today and get vaccinated."
Patients admitted to Lima hospitals with coronavirus account for about 20% to 25% of all hospital admissions, with roughly one-third of those patients in critical care.
"We are in a very precarious position in this community, where our ability to provide ongoing critical care resources for anyone sick enough to require them is at risk," Owens said.
The situation, which changes on an hourly basis, has affected the ability of Lima hospitals to accept patient transfers from smaller community hospitals that already have limited capacity to handle COVID-19 surges.
The latest surge is rippling through the health care system: Patients are waiting several hours in the emergency department to see a medical provider. Others are waiting days for their coronavirus test results, with many seeking tests at urgent care and emergency departments, further straining those resources.
St. Rita's and Lima Memorial Health System have halted most surgeries, particularly those requiring an overnight stay, and they started looking for other hospitals to send critical patients away. But few other hospitals in Ohio are able to accept transfers themselves.
Ventilators and monoclonal antibodies, a popular experimental treatment for those with mild coronavirus disease, are becoming harder to find due to high demand across the U.S. and Ohio.
Hospitals were already seeing higher patient volumes, attributed in part to those who delayed seeking care or preventative screenings last year, at a time when many health care workers are burnt out and leaving the field.
"They're tired and worn out, and there is still no end in sight," said Dr. Dennis Morris, chief medical officer and vice president for Lima Memorial Health System.
The situation is deteriorating across Ohio: Tuesday saw 459 new COVID-19 hospital admissions reported statewide, the highest since January, according to the Ohio Department of Health. ICU admissions have followed a similar pattern, with 47 new admissions reported in the last 24 hours.
This time, younger Ohioans are at greater risk of hospitalization, as they are the least likely to be vaccinated.
Ohio saw nearly 400 patients under age 50 admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 during the first week of September, more than half of whom were under age 40, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Preliminary ODH data suggests an average of two Ohioans under age 50 died with COVID-19 each day in August.
Allen County Public Health on Friday issued a mask advisory, urging all adults and children age 2 and older to wear a mask in indoor public places and crowded outdoor settings, including schools and workplaces to bring coronavirus spread under control. But few are complying with the advisory, which lacks the authority of previous health orders.