‘We are at wits’ end’: Regional health leaders urge residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine as hospitalizations rise

Published: Aug. 9, 2021 at 8:51 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 9, 2021 at 10:55 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Leaders from major hospitals in Southeast Georgia came together Monday to give a true picture of what’s going on with the latest surge of COVID-19 cases.

They were begging, pleading, and urging everyone in the eight counties that make up the Coastal Health District to get vaccinated.

Healthcare providers from Liberty Regional in Hinesville, Southeast Georgia in Glynn and Camden counties, St. Joseph’s/Candler, and Memorial Health. Those leaders say this is the third major spike. For most hospitals this is the highest level of patients being treated throughout the entire pandemic.

“The vaccine is absolutely something you can all do to help. We are tired. We are at wits’ end. The staff is overwhelmed. We’re taking care of your community, your family, possibly watching them die. This is something we’ve never seen before. It’s trying times, I’ve been doing this for 26 years and never have we seen anything like this,” Liberty Regional Chief Nursing Officer Donna Cochran said.

Hospitals give COVID update

#WATCH: Area hospitals coming together to give COVID update >>> https://bit.ly/3s3jAhk

Posted by WTOC-TV on Monday, August 9, 2021

Liberty Regional leaders said they have 33 patients in the 25 bed critical access hospital and Southeast Georgia Medical Center says nearly half of their patients are COVID positive.

A majority of those are unvaccinated. In fact, the Southeast Georgia Health System chief medical officer says all their ICU patients are unvaccinated and of those hospitalized, less than 10 percent are vaccinated and all of them are older in age.

Hospitalization in Chatham County alone are 15 percent higher than our previous high with nearly 200 patients getting treatment. This is happening not only 17 months after we saw our first case, but also about eight months after vaccines were brought to the Coastal Empire.

It’s a sad reality for healthcare leaders and one that frustrates many - knowing there is more we can do to help keep people safe. That’s the plea from those battling this surge of COVID cases on the frontline in the hospital—get your vaccine.

They say it’s been thoroughly tested and proven safe and effective not to mention administered to hundreds of millions of people. Yet still they see patients come to the hospital unvaccinated - some critically ill.

Doctors say you can make a difference and help alleviate the capacity concerns at local hospitals.

“Please recognize the individual choices matter. Your choice matters when it comes to vaccination. In the last seven days we’ve had seven deaths from COVID-19 at Memorial Health adding to the now over 21,000 mothers, fathers, grandparents daughters and son of Georgia that have died in Georgia hospitals during this pandemic. At this point through science and research we have learned a lot about how to better treat this disease and prevent death for most, but we’ve also learned from this same science and research that the most effective and best strategy to not be harmed by this infection is through vaccination,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker, Associate Chief Medical Officer, Memorial Health.

Doctors are asking you to trust them like you have for every other medical need you’ve had. They say vaccination is critical, especially now as they expect to see COVID cases continue to climb unless we make a change.

Dr. Davis with the Coastal Health District says they have seen vaccinations double in the last week, but it’s still not nearly enough. He is urging you to visit one of the dozens of places that have it widely available and free. Like just down the road on Eisenhower at the annex.

“It’s the younger people that are really struggling with this. And, I mean, I can tell you about a 33-year-old that we put on the ventilator last week. I can tell you about 27-year-olds that are dying, but for some reason we cannot get this message to our communities. Healthcare providers realize that this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated and largely avoidable and that’s very frustrating and taxing on the people that are working hard every day, long days, many days in a row spending time away from their families to care for the folks coming in the hospital. The vaccine helps,” Southeast Georgia Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alan Brown said.

They are asking everyone to talk to their doctors if they have any questions at all about the vaccine. Many of them said they have treated patients in the ICU who say they wish they would have gotten the vaccine, but they have to tell them it’s too late.

While these health leaders acknowledged the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, they do say it’s our best defense against COVID-19 and the Delta variant.

St. Joseph’s/Candler Health System leaders say their ERs have full waiting rooms and long waits for care as so many are coming to be tested. While they have seen breakthrough cases, they say it’s critical to point out most of them return home with their infection and do not need hospitalization.

“Those patients who are upset I am telling them they are positive, they almost can’t believe it. They are going home and they are recovering and so I am saying, I’m having to tell them look, your oxygen levels are normal, your chest x-ray is clear, you know you don’t feel well right now, but you’ll likely be fine in a few days. It could be the other way around, so I think that’s the message. Is the vaccine 100 effective at preventing infection? No, no one ever said it was, is it extremely effective at preventing hospitalization, serious illness and death, absolutely,” St. Joseph’s Hospital Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Jeff Kenney said.

Regional doctors say there are a lot of myths that need to be debunked about the COVID vaccine. First, doctors expect the vaccine to get full FDA approval soon and say its proven safe and effective after hundreds of millions of doses.

They also say the science behind the vaccine isn’t new and was not rushed; rather, the manufacturing and delivery happened quickly. Doctors say it’s critical you seek facts from trusted resources.

“It’s lunacy that we are having to drag people out of their own harm’s way and make them realize that the vaccine is going to save their life. It’s very frustrating. I’m sorry. I am passionate about it, but it’s I just don’t know how else to say it and ironically a lot of the patients that refuse to take the experimental vaccine have no problems taking the drugs that we’re using experimentally in the hospital to try and save their lives,” Dr. Brown said.

Doctors say the time to act is right now—protect yourself and others, get your vaccine. They say your choice impacts others and makes a difference.

Gov. Kemp on COVID-19

WTOC caught up with Governor Kemp after health care providers around our region begged people to get vaccinated and shared how overwhelmed local health care systems are.

Governor Kemp says getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself. But he does say Georgians have to make that choice themselves.

As vaccinations continue, local hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise.

Governor Brian Kemp applauded the work of healthcare, faith and community leaders on local levels doing vaccine clinics, but says more needs to be done.

“We need local citizens to take the lead too. Local chambers of commerce, local leaders in neighborhoods, not necessarily even elected officials. But home owners association groups and other people that are believers in this that can help share the messages and help set things up so we can get the vaccine directly especially to hard to reach folks,” said Governor Kemp.

To share those messages and debunk misinformation, the governor says talking with a healthcare worker or even a friend can help. At the end of the day, Governor Kemp says getting a vaccine is a choice.

“To me I think it’s up to all of us to continue to talk about it but also I don’t think mandating on people and trying to push it down on them too hard is going to work. People have got to get comfortable in their own way and some people are never going to get comfortable and this is America. They have got freedoms and individual responsibilities and individual rights to take the vaccine or not. I’m personally am glad I took it,” said Governor Kemp.

The governor says Georgia has plenty of vaccines. He also says the state is prepared to keep sending extra staff to hospitals if needed.

Ga. DPH: Hospital bed and ventilator use in Georgia

Ga. DPH: Percent of patients classified as COVID-19 patients

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