Struggling with the rise in Delta variants of COVID-19, cases are sweeping across the state of Georgia. Tanner Health System, local to Carrollton, has a message to residents: they are running out of space for patients. The total hospital occupancy at the 176-bed facility in the Carrollton location (including 20 ICU) is currently at 121%. According to Deborah Matthews, Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer for Tanner Health System, this current surge is worse than the surge at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 due to vast age groups of people becoming very sick.
“It’s affecting a broader demographic of people, in greater numbers and with more acute illness,” said Matthews. “Generally, our patients are younger than they were during previous waves of the pandemic, and the number of children younger than 18 is climbing rapidly as well, although [no pediatric] patients are currently hospitalized at our facility.”
The pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on healthcare providers who are working hard and long hours to meet the demands. There was a shortage of healthcare workers prior to the pandemic, including nurses, physicians, and respiratory therapists. COVID-19 has compounded these needs, and Tanner Health System is doing everything they can to recruit more people to work.
“Many employees are working longer hours and agency nurses—nurses that work under contract, are helping to cover gaps,” said Matthews. “Our human resources team is doing a stellar job of recruiting and onboarding staff, but it’s hard, and the need is great. Our current staff is tired.”
Unvaccinated individuals make up the majority of patients severely ill with the disease. Across the three hospitals affiliated with Tanner Health System (located in Bremen, Carrollton, and Villa Rica), 97% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, and 93% of COVID-19 deaths since February of 2021 have been among the unvaccinated. There are currently no vaccinated individuals on ventilators.
The hospitalization data with the vaccinated and unvaccinated is clear —vaccines help prevent severe illness and hospitalization against COVID-19, yet vaccine distrust and online misinformation have had detrimental effects on its public perception. Tanner Health System wants to make it clear to local residents that the vaccine is safe and effective in the prevention of COVID-19. Many people have concerns about breakthrough cases among vaccinated individuals but Matthews says that the vaccine is doing its job in keeping those who get it safe, in addition to preventing strain on the hospital systems.
“Get vaccinated. Our facilities are crowded and our staff is stretched thin but we are trying to hold the line against this virus and help everyone we can,” she said. “Vaccination is safe and though breakout infections can occur—just as they can with any vaccine- your risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death are far lower. Vaccination is our best shot at saving lives and protecting health.”