Local hospital leaders sounded yet another dire alarm Friday about increasingly crowded hospitals and sick, exhausted health care workers as the new coronavirus pandemic surges ever higher, pleading again for mask-wearing and social distancing. Without action, patients could be turned away from hospitals, they said.
“Please rethink your Thanksgiving plans,” said Dr. Helen Koselka, TriHealth regional chief medical officer. “I am here on behalf of all health care workers. Please help us. … Health care workers are tired. We are tired of seeing fear in the faces. We’re tired of seeing people passing away who were in a normal state of health a few days before.”
For four weeks, the region’s hospital leaders have been calling out warnings that have grown in volume and number. In a Friday media briefing over Zoom, they delivered an even bleaker assessment of the region’s pandemic burden: Trendlines for case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths have curved to nearly straight up.
Hospitals have been more than 90% occupied for nearly a week, they said, and relief is not in sight. A projection from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center released Friday found that on Nov. 11, Southwest Ohio hospitals cared for 519 patients with COVID-19, the disease that can result from infection with the new coronavirus, and by Dec. 1, the total could be 997.
Dr. Evaline Alessandrini, chief medical officer of UC Health, warned that the prospect of halting all nonessential surgeries and procedures solidifies as an option every day. She asked residents to generate “magic” within the community by abiding by the public health instructions of mask-wearing in public and indoors, washing hands and keeping them away from the face, social distancing from others and staying home when ill.
“Every time we add another 20 or 100 patients with COVID, it’s limiting our ability to give you that timely care within seconds of you walking in the door,” Alessandrini said.
Nearly 25,000 health care workers in Ohio have been infected with the new coronavirus, the Ohio Department of Health says. About 20% of the 240 members of the Ohio Hospital Association are reporting a need for staff, said OHA Executive Director John Palmer.
To thank and reward hospital employees for enduring not only the pandemic but also layoffs and other job actions, TriHealth announced this week that on Dec. 11, full-time employees each will get a $500 bonus and part-time employees will get $250 each. Employees who were cut last summer will also get the bonus, said the announcement from Mark Clement, TriHealth’s president and chief executive officer.
Mayor John Cranley, who also was part of the Zoom briefing, announced that he is closing City Hall to the public for the rest of the year to have air purifiers installed in the building and “to lead by example” in promoting social distancing. With a metaphor from Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” Cranley said the region is heading into “a really dark winter of our discontent.”
Dr. John Kennedy of the Christ Hospital Health Network, a psychiatrist on the regional planning team, said in the Zoom briefing that one obstacle to bringing down the viral infection has been the message itself.
Its mere simplicity – mask up, stay away from others – doesn’t resonate with everyone, he said, a problem when everyone needs to change behavior to manage the risk of a virus. But people will change behavior when they conclude that the change is consistent with their values.
“We reverse-engineer our perception of risk based on the values we take into it,” Kennedy said. “It’s not about the risk. You have to think about the solution and whether we agree with that based on our values. And then we determine from that whether or not there’s risk. If your values aren’t consistent with the message, you’re going to tune out the risk.”
He said he hoped area branding and marketing companies might volunteer to help the Health Collaborative in diversifying the appeal of the message and finding the right people to deliver it. He pointed to the state of Ohio’s video appeal on mask-wearing featuring former Ohio State University football coaches Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer.
“That’s a good start,” Kennedy said. “But we need to segment the message for Cincinnati. Just because they’re Ohio State doesn’t mean it’s going to work here.”