Cleveland Clinic's ICU staff share their frustrations with every bed full of COVID-19 patients

The Medical Intensive Care Unit  beds at the Cleveland Clinic are filled with COVID-19 patients, which means staff have had to move patients to make room for those who are sicker. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]
The Medical Intensive Care Unit beds at the Cleveland Clinic are filled with COVID-19 patients, which means staff have had to move patients to make room for those who are sicker. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]
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All 43 patients in Cleveland Clinic's Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU), on the main campus, are sick with COVID-19 and about two-thirds of them are on ventilators, Cleveland Clinic officials said Tuesday.

Cleveland Clinic invited Ideastream Public Media health reporters into the intensive care unit on Wednesday to talk about how this is the worst they have seen through the pandemic. The hospital does not typically allow reporters into this area.

The patients on the floor were too sick to be interviewed, but reporters were present when family members were there saying goodbye to loved ones.

In one corner of the ICU, some family members stood outside a room, crying, as doctors prepared to take their loved one off a ventilator. 

“That, you just watched -- that’s probably somebody that is dying," said the Clinic’s ICU director Dr. Eduardo Mireles.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” said Stephanie Dota, who works in respiratory care at the Clinic

“I don’t know if there’s a strong enough word for how sick of this we all are," said Dota. "Some families don’t believe it’s COVID, so it’s hard to get through to them."

Staff shared how heartbreaking it is to have to decide when patients have to come off the ventilator and to withdraw all care.

Kathryn Carson puts on the robe, gloves, and mask required to enter a COVID-19 patient's room. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]

The crush of COVID-19 patients in the ICU has left no room for people with other illnesses, officials said.

Normally, there are patients with a variety of illnesses in the MICU, said Dr. Hassan Khouli, chairman of Critical Care Medicine. But as COVID-19 infections have surged, the unit that serves the hospitals' sickest patients has filled up with people suffering complications of COVID-19 infections. 

“These are numbers, but these are also human lives,” Dr. Khouli said.

Cleveland Clinic officials said the infections are the worst hospital officials have seen during the pandemic, not just in numbers but also in terms of how sick patients are. The MICU beds are full, and they have to move patients to make room for sicker patients, he said.

“It’s kind of a revolving door,” said Nurse Manager Claire Strauser. 

The harsh truth is that many of those who are treated in the MICU will never go home. 

About 18% will die, said Khouli. 

Among those on a ventilator, the risk of death is even greater. About a third will be lost, he said. 

Some people think the ventilator is a death sentence, but doctors say it’s a lifesaving tool that can help a person recover.  

On Monday, the hospital said it was "near capacity" in a tweet and asked the public to get vaccinated against the disease. 

The vast majority of those in the ICU are unvaccinated, said Andrea Pacetti, a Cleveland Clinic spokesperson. 

As of Monday, there were 811 COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Cleveland Clinic facilities across the state, she said. Nearly 30% of those were in the MICU. 

 

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