WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized at New Hanover Regional Medical Center is as high as it’s been during the entire pandemic, with the daily average of patients increasing to 68.
Likewise, the number of patients in the COVID intensive care unit has grown; though, the hospital says it still has sufficient room for both virus patients and others.
In response to the surge, Chief Clinical Officer Dr. West Paul says the hospital has begun adjusting its operations, and is prepared to implement additional plans it established months ago, but so far has not had to use.
“We’ve got the plans in place,” he said, “but we are concerned.”
West said the increase in hospitalizations is the fallout of the surge in coronavirus cases associated with the holidays, and while Southeastern North Carolina has lagged other parts of the state for a few weeks, the numbers are starting to rocket upward.
“We’ve been a little bit behind that curve in getting our numbers in, but they’re certainly going up now,” he said.
The hospital’s adjustment to the surge is multi-faceted, Paul said.
First, they’ve stopped scheduling surgeries that are non-emergent—anything that can be postponed for at least four weeks is being put on hold.
Those restrictions help hold open some ICU beds, he said, and they will be “ratcheted up” if the situation worsens.
Other adjustments involve pulling staff to assist with the COVID unit and COVID ICU, including CRNAs (nurse anesthetists) who wouldn’t typically staff a critical-care bed or rapid-response team, but who have the technical training to do so.
“It’s a little bit of everything that we need to care for the greater number of COVID patients,” Paul said.
If things get worse, the hospital has other means of making space for more patients, but it’s complicated.
For example, COVID patients are treated in negative-pressure rooms, where the air is ventilated outside. The hospital can increase the number of rooms of that type, but they have to move non-COVID patients to other areas.
If needed, Paul said entire units at the 17th Street campus could be relocated to the orthopedic hospital on Wrightsville Avenue—but they are hoping it doesn’t come to that.
“We still have beds at the hospital,” he said, wanting to emphasize that anyone who is sick or injured will still be treated, “If you’re sick, we have the beds, we have the [Emergency Department] capacity, but we have to be judicious with our resources as we go forward. And we know these numbers are probably going to continue to go up.”