Northeast Ohio Hospitals Nearing Capacity, Facing Staffing Shortages

This graph of Ohio Department of Health data shows the dramatic increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state since the beginning of July. [Ohio Department of Health]
This graph of Ohio Department of Health data shows the dramatic increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state since the beginning of July. [Ohio Department of Health]

Northeast Ohio hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients again, and officials are concerned staff shortages and rising COVID-19 cases could cause them to become overwhelmed soon.

Dr. Robert Wyllie, chief medical operations officer at Cleveland Clinic, said while Cleveland-area hospitals still have capacity, officials are concerned they do not have enough staff members available to adequately handle an impending surge.

“We all started losing staff as people started to wither a little bit under the tedium of a year and half of infection, and dealing with these very, very sick patients in the ICU, and watching fatalities at a fairly rapid rate, compared to our usual number of patients in the hospital,” Wyllie said during a press conference held by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Friday.

Wyllie represents Zone 1, one of three zones designated by ODH for hospital systems in the northern, central and southern areas of the state to coordinate their COVID-19 response. Zone 1 includes the Cleveland area and 21 northern Ohio counties.

Hospitals in this region are currently operating at about 75 to 80 percent capacity, and the percentage is climbing every day, Wyllie said. As of Friday, more than 900 patients are hospitalized and about 300 are on ventilators in Zone 1, Wyllie said.

“We were already full before this recent rise in COVID, so what we think happened is people deferred care during the pandemic,” he said. “That, coupled with this bulge in COVID patients is really stressing the system a little bit.”

Cases and hospitalizations are soaring in the state due to the highly contagious delta variant, health officials said.

Hospitalizations are now approaching numbers last seen during the deadly winter surge in January and February, ODH director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said.

More than 2,000 individuals are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Ohio, compared to about 200 in early July, Vanderhoff said.

The vast majority of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated, he said.

In the Columbus area, some hospitals are having to postpone elective procedures, open up additional emergency rooms due to emergency departments filling up, and defer patients to other hospitals due to occupancy issues, said Dr. Andrew Thomas, chief medical officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

“In Central Ohio … all of us are facing significant capacity challenges,” Thomas said.

Wyllie did not say whether Cleveland-area hospitals are considering postponing elective surgeries at this point, but he said they are not facing these specific challenges yet and still have sufficient capacity to handle new patients. Northeast Ohio hospitals also have plenty of bed equipment, ventilators, and personal protective equipment, he said.

“I think we’re OK. We’re going to keep our fingers crossed that we don’t end up like some of the states in the South,” Wyllie said. “Right now, nobody’s deferring cases in Zone 1.”

In Southern states, which were some of the first to be hit hard by the rise of the delta variant and face surges in hospitalizations, cases seem to be plateauing and consequently dropping, he added. He hopes this will be the case in Ohio as well.

If hospitalizations continue to spike in Northeast Ohio, though, there are plans in place to transfer patients to other hospitals in the region if one hospital is overwhelmed, Wyllie said. For example, a patient could be moved from Columbiana County to Akron, or Akron to Cleveland, he said.

By and large, patients with breakthrough infections – meaning they contracted the virus despite being vaccinated and needed hospitalization – had underlying conditions or were immunocompromised, Thomas said.

Officials are also concerned by the number of younger patients developing severe illness and needing hospitalization. Vanderhoff urged parents to consider vaccinating children ages 12 and older. The COVID-19 vaccines are not yet authorized for children ages 11 and under.

For eligible children and adults, vaccination remains the best way to combat these surges in hospitalizations and keep hospitals at sufficient capacity, Wyllie said.

Another way to help the hospitals, Vanderhoff said, is to receive COVID-19 testing elsewhere – such as at pharmacies, health departments and some public libraries.

“If your symptoms of COVID-19 are of the mild to moderate nature, and you’re really looking to confirm your diagnosis rather than seeking medical advice, testing is available statewide outside our hospitals and emergency rooms,” Vanderhoff said.

Ohio hospitals are receiving transfer requests from systems in other states that are overwhelmed, but at this point, most are turning those requests down due to the rise in Ohio patients needing care, Thomas added.

Support Provided By

More Wksu Schedule
More Wclv Schedule
Schedule
Donate
WKSU
WCLV
NPR Hourly Newscast
The Latest News and Headlines from NPR
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.
This text will be replaced with a player.