The latest COVID-19 surge is filling up Peoria-area hospitals and confounding health officials, who thought when the vaccine was introduced a year ago, the pandemic would be quickly brought under control.
UnityPoint Health is nearing capacity at all three of its Peoria-area hospitals, said Jaymee Barra, a media relations specialist at the hospital.
Meanwhile, the 2,030 new cases in the Tri-County Area this week rivaled numbers last winter before the vaccine was available to everyone.
Only 11% of ICU beds are available in the area's hospitals, which include the UnityPoint facilities and OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center. During the height of the pandemic bed capacity got down to 5% - the difference between 5% and 11% is just a few beds, said Peoria City/County Health Department administrator Monica Hendrickson.
“This week we marked our one-year anniversary of vaccinations. I stood here and told you all that this was a light at the end of the tunnel, but today all three counties are just above 50% fully vaccinated,” Hendrickson said during a news conference Thursday. “There are no words to describe this. In a season of hope, I and other public health and healthcare professionals find ourselves in sadness.”
Case numbers have been rising at a rate of 25% per week, she said.
“I know that people may have stopped watching and stopped listening, but I cannot stress how severe a situation we are in right now. Cases cannot keep going up at this rate,” said Hendrickson.
UnityPoint, OSF seeing COVID surges
“Other patients needing critical care are being kept in the emergency department until a bed becomes available,” Barra told the Journal Star on Thursday. “At the same time, our emergency departments are full and patients needing care are experiencing longer than usual wait times.”
On Wednesday night UnityPoint had 62 COVID patients, 16 of them in the ICU. Most of them, 87%, were unvaccinated, said Barra.
"We strongly encourage everyone age 5 and older to get vaccinated as soon as possible or receive a booster," said Barra. "COVID-19 vaccines are free, accessible and are proven to be our best protection against infection and serious illness."
OSF HealthCare is also reporting an increase in patient volumes.
“Last December and January was when I would say we saw our highest numbers of COVID patients admitted, and right now we’re not far from those numbers,” said Jennifer Croland, chief nursing officer at St. Francis.
COVID patients are accounting for more than 10% of those at St. Francis, said Shelli Dankoff, media relations supervisor for OSF HealthCare.
But it’s not the number of beds at issue, it’s the number of staff members available to provide the care. Hospitals across the nation are struggling with a nursing shortage, she said, with many nurses are leaving hospitals for other opportunities.
It's leading to longer wait times for patients needing a bed at St. Francis, said Dankoff.
“We are seeing longer hold times and more challenges with alternate placement,” she said. “Patients are staying on our placement lists for longer periods of time than we normally see.”
Is Carle coming?: UnityPoint's Peoria facilities may become part of Carle Health
What to do if you need medical care
People experiencing life-threatening illnesses, like heart attack or stroke, should not shy away from the emergency room, but people will less urgent needs should seek alternative care. The emergency room is not the place to go if you need a COVID test or want to receive monoclonal antibodies.
"For non-emergency needs, please call your primary care provider first or visit a walk-in clinic to be evaluated," said Barra.
Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.
This article originally appeared on Journal Star: With only 11% ICU capacity remaining, health officials urge vaccination