VOSS: "We are not currently able to keep up with demand"

Michael D. Smith

The head of Mercy Hospital Ardmore is warning that the pandemic’s worsening impact on local health care resources cannot be sustained. Over a third of the patients receiving care at the largest hospital in the region were being treated for COVID-19 this week, which is having an impact on other health care services including emergency care.

“Patients who don’t need to be hospitalized may not be directly impacted immediately, but if they have an emergency need for care (i.e. heart attack, stroke, trauma) they will experience longer holds in the ER as we wait for inpatient beds to open,” said Daryle Voss, president of Mercy Hospital Ardmore, through a spokesperson on Thursday.

The Mercy Hospital Ardmore campus on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Over one-third of inpatient care at Mercy Hospital Ardmore this week has been related to COVID-19, which has resulted in pressure on emergency care at the Ardmore hospital.

As local health care workers are among those worldwide being tested by the pandemic, the hospital has joined 100 of the nation’s top health care systems urging Americans to wear masks in an effort to slow the surging pandemic.

“We are seeing more COVID-19 patients than ever coming to our hospital desperate for care and we are running out of resources and beds to take care of them,” Voss said in a separate statement on Friday. 

The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Saturday reported 170,924 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, with data compiled by The Ardmoreite showing the seven-day average of new daily cases climbed to 2,959.86 for another record day.

Active cases in Oklahoma continued a weeks-long surge, passing 30,000 on Friday, with 276 of those active cases in Carter County. An average of nearly 1,400 hospital beds statewide were occupied by COVID-19 patients on any given day between Nov. 16 and Nov. 20, according to OSDH data.

Staffing at the Ardmore hospital appears to be stretched thin with 66 beds available to receive COVID-19 patients, 23 of which were occupied by COVID-19 patients on Thursday evening, according to Voss. He said the hospital’s senior behavioral health unit has been temporarily closed to open up 10 more staffed beds, and plans are being made to utilize agency nurses and further expand bed availability in coming weeks.

The impact on inpatient service for the hospital is beginning to affect other aspects of care like emergencies. With many of the 17 emergency exam rooms sometimes filled with patients waiting for an inpatient bed to become available, Voss admitted patients may occasionally find themselves waiting on a bed in the hallway.

“The current trajectory is unsustainable for our co-workers who are already exhausted from battling this virus for the last eight months. We cannot do this alone. We need the help of our friends and neighbors to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Voss said on Friday.

Mercy Hospital Ardmore president Daryle Voss speaks to the Ardmore City Commission on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. Voss said this week that staffing at the Ardmore hospital is struggling to keep up with the surging number of COVID-19 cases.

Mercy Hospital Ardmore is not the only Oklahoma hospital dealing with the growing strain on personnel and resources. Tulsa hospitals ran out of ICU beds for a time on Nov. 10, according to The Associated Press. The state’s Executive Order Report for Nov. 19, the most recent available, showed adult ICU bed availability statewide dropping as low as 5% this week.

On Friday, Voss joined counterparts from other hospital systems across the country to urge Americans to slow the spread of COVID-19. About one million Americans have tested positive in the most recent week — 11.9 million Americans total — and total deaths in the U.S. recently surpassed 250,000, according to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

While the staffing situation at the Ardmore hospital becomes more dire as case numbers continue to explode ahead of the holiday season, some concerns from early in the pandemic seem to have been addressed locally. Personal protective equipment and ventilators are better stocked and the hospital can continue to reach out to other hospitals with the larger network. 

“For example, we did borrow some ventilators from our hospital in St. Louis while a few of ours were undergoing maintenance. We are now in a good place with equipment and supplies,” Voss said. “Unlike the spring, when there was a PPE shortage, Mercy now has plenty.”

But while ventilators and PPE have been secured, doctors at Mercy Hospital Ardmore find themselves with fewer options when it comes to finding the right care for patients.

“We are not currently able to keep up with demand and frequently have to transfer patients to other facilities due to a lack of staffed beds, both medical and ICU,” Voss said.