Ballad Health hospitals have been taking care of a record number of COVID-19 patients over the past week.

At a press conference Thursday, Ballad Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton reported the system was caring for 408 COVID-19 patients, which is a slight decrease from the 413 COVID-19 patients the system was housing on Wednesday. Both of those numbers are well above the previous hospitalization record of 361 COVID-19 patients. Ballad is housing 77 more COVID-19 patients than last week.

Out of the 408 COVID-19 patients in Ballad hospitals Thursday, 106 were in intensive care units, which is also a record amount, and 78 COVID-19 patients were on ventilators.

Five of the 408 COVID-19 patients are children.

Ballad currently has about 1,450 patients in its hospitals, while the typical patient count is 1,100 to 1,200. According to Deaton, that increased patient load is putting enormous stress on Ballad’s facilities.

“For five straight days we broke our daily inpatient COVID-19 record, with a high of 413 patients Wednesday,” Deaton said. “That number is slightly lower Thursday at 408, but please don’t mistake that for the numbers tapering off. We had 50 admissions and over 50 discharges, so there’s a lot of change going on each day.”

To help deal with the growing number of patients, Ballad has started moving some people from corporate offices into frontline roles in hospitals to help assist nurses and other medical professionals.

Ballad is also treating 281 COVID-19 patients through its Safer at Home program, which allows Ballad to monitor and care for patients virtually. This means that Ballad is treating a total of 689 COVID-19 patients.

“These are not just numbers. These are people that are within our community that we know and love: mothers, fathers, pastors, coaches, law enforcement officers, workers of every type. They really do represent a cross section of our community,” Deaton said. “These are real people.”

Ballad officials say that 94% of COVID-19 patients hospitalized are unvaccinated, 97% of COVID-19 patients in ICUs are unvaccinated, and 96% of COVID-19 patients on a ventilator are unvaccinated.

Deaton repeated that vaccination is the best way to prevent serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19.

“I remember a year ago, we were so excited to get the vaccine because that would save us. I thought we would be over 50-60-70% vaccination rates. I really thought our community would embrace it,” Deaton said. “We know we can overcome this quickly if people would just do the right thing. It’s unfortunate that it’s become political and all that. The vaccine is something that works. We want people to take it and remain healthy and stay out of the hospital.

“The one thing our community can do to help us is to get vaccinated,” he said.

Ballad’s current surge plan accounts for up to 515 COVID-19 patients, which could be about half of all patients in the system. According to Deaton, if the number of COVID-19 patients surpasses that number, it will be difficult for hospitals to give quality care to every patient in the system.

MONOCLONAL TREATMENT CLINICS OPEN

During Thursday’s press conference, emergency room physician and Ballad Chief Medical Information Officer Dr. Mark Wilkinson provided an update on Ballad’s use of monoclonal antibody treatments in the region.

“We’ve administered more doses of monoclonal antibodies in the last six weeks than we did in the first six months of providing these infusions,” Wilkinson said. “We expect to give over 2,000 doses total by the end of the week.”

Wilkinson explained that the treatment is usually given in a 20-minute infusion process, then a one-hour observation process. People then tend to feel better quickly. The treatment is also most effective if administered within the first week of infection.

Ballad opened its first monoclonal antibody infusion clinic on Aug. 25 at Indian Path Community Hospital in Kingsport, and opened a second standalone clinic in Johnson City this week. Each location can serve 20 patients a day, and patients must be over the age of 12 and weigh more than 88 pounds. Pregnant women are also eligible for the infusion treatment.

Wilkinson also updated the status of emergency rooms across the region.

“All of our emergency rooms are at capacity today,” Wilkinson said.

Throughout most of August and September, Ballad officials have stressed the importance of seeking the appropriate level of care for health concerns to take stress off overwhelmed emergency departments in the area. Health officials have also stated that people should not go to the emergency room to get a COVID-19 test.

“We want to take care of the patients who are critically ill first, with chest pain, shortness of breath and abdominal pain,” Wilkinson said. “We will see them all, ultimately, but patients need to know if they are coming in with a minor issue or for testing, they will have to wait.”