Ballad Health officials expect more hospitalizations from COVID-19 in the near future based on the increase of new cases regionally and are making plans to expand capacity for patients with the virus.
On Wednesday, 70 people were hospitalized in Ballad Health facilities with 18 in intensive care and 13 on ventilators, according to Jamie Swift, chief infection prevention officer for the health care system. Swift and other Ballad Health officials gave an update on the hospitalizations and other measures the system is taking to prepare for a surge of cases during a media briefing Wednesday.
That number is among the highest for the system thus far in the pandemic, but the 70 does not include the 30 people hospitalized Wednesday who are currently awaiting test results to determine if they have the coronavirus, said Eric Deaton, chief operating officer for Ballad Health.
“We could easily go to 80 or 90 overnight by the test results coming in,” Deaton said.
“We are really at war with this disease,” he continued. “The focus really has to be how can we continue to do the right things as a community and a region … such as wearing a mask, social distancing and washing hands. We need to do everything we can to combat this disease.”
Dr. Clay Runnels, Ballad Health chief physician executive, said the system looks at the number of cases in the region to forecast the needs rather than focusing on the daily hospitalization rates.
How the virus typically affects people makes tracking cases an effective predictor of how many people may end up in the hospital, Runnels explained. Those who have been hospitalized thus far mostly have suffered from symptoms seven to 10 days, and sometimes up to 14, before they get ill enough to require hospital care, he said.
Ballad Health facilities have patients of all ages with the virus, although the average age is 60, Runnels said.
“Some had minor symptoms in the beginning and now are hospitalized on a ventilator,” he said. “Many patients have said they wished they had taken more precautions. We have seen some COVID patients that have not been around anyone else with the coronavirus, so we definitely have community spread.”
On Wednesday, the number of cases in Greene County since the pandemic began decreased by one to 237, according to the daily report from the Tennessee Department of Health. The department’s website state some discrepancies can occur due to updated information received from counties.
There are now 126 active cases within the county, down two from Tuesday, according to the report. Four people have died locally from the disease, including two in the past five days. The state report lists 107 people as recovered in the county. Sixteen Greene Countians have been hospitalized from the virus since the pandemic began, according to state data.
In the eight counties served by Ballad Health in Northeast Tennessee, there are now 983 active cases, up 13 from Tuesday. Ballad Health officials said the largest increases have been in Washington and Sullivan counties. Washington had 332 active cases Wednesday, up seven from Tuesday, with Sullivan’s active total at 203, down five from the previous day.
Across the state of Tennessee, there were 2,473 new coronavirus cases the state report indicated. There are 33,781 active cases across the state, and 49,748 are listed as recovered. Seventeen more people died from the virus in the previous day in Tennessee, the report stated, bringing the total to 888.
Ballad Health continues to implement a surge plan to have 150 beds designated for coronavirus patient care by Friday, Deaton said.
With this increase in beds, care givers are being moved from smaller hospitals to the three tertiary hospitals in the system, he said. Staff from Greeneville Community Hospital East and Franklin Woods Hospital have been temporarily reassigned to the Johnson City Medical Center COVID unit, Deaton said.
In addition, elective surgeries and have been temporarily suspended and admissions limited at the hospitals in Hawkins and Hancock counties to be able to transfer staff to Holston Valley Medical Center for coronavirus care, he said. Staff from facilities in Russell and Smith counties in Southwest Virginia have been transferred to Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon
The reassignments are temporary, and all hospitals remain open for patient care, Deaton said. Inpatient capacity has been reduced within some facilities rather than suspending elective surgeries to increase the system’s ability to care for COVID-19 patients, he added.
TESTING, PLASMA DONATIONS
With the increasing number of people being tested for the coronavirus, there are delays in receiving results from the private labs where most are processed, Swift said.
Due to the volume of tests the labs are handling, results are taking seven to 10 days and perhaps longer to receive, she said, requesting that people tested by Ballad Health not call a hospital emergency room to check on results to help keep their phone lines open.
“We will call you when we get results,” she said. Results will also appear on an individual’s “My Chart” patient information account.
There is a limited supply of more rapid tests that can be done in-house by Ballad Health, and those are being reserved for situations in which a quicker result is needed, the officials said.
Ballad Health officials also renewed their call for people who have recovered from the virus to donate plasma to be used in treatment of people with COVID-19. Ballad Health is participating in a nationwide study, under the direction of the Mayo Clinic, to determine the effectiveness of convalescent plasma as a treatment for the coronavirus.
“The antibodies present in blood can be effective in treating the most critically ill patients,” Runnels said. “Convalescent plasma is also showing that it can prevent severe complications in those in earlier stages of the disease.”
But, the treatment depends on donations from people who have recovered, Runnels said. He encouraged people to call the Marsh Regional Blood Center at 423-230-5640 to see if they are eligible to donate.
“A donation can make a dramatic difference to someone with COVID-19,” he said.
In addition, Marsh Regional Blood Center is testing each of its blood donors for antibodies that indicate a person has been infected with the virus in the past, Runnels said. Anyone who has the antibodies is asked to donate plasma.
The antibody tests help gauge how prevalent the virus is in the region, he said. Ballad Health team members have been tested for antibodies and most had negative results, Runnels continued, indicating at that time the virus was not prevalent in the region.