“It is heartbreaking and exhausting,” Oklahoma doctors say hospitals at breaking point with increase in COVID-19 cases

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Following a dramatic jump in the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths, four Oklahoma hospitals came together to say they are close to a breaking point.

On Monday, data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health shows that the state has had 515,801 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March of 2020.

That’s an increase of 6,967 cases since Friday, Aug. 13.

Officials also reported 51 new COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma.

On Tuesday, medical experts from OU Health, Mercy Hospital, SSM Health St. Anthony, and INTEGRIS came together to stress the impact the pandemic is having on Oklahoma City hospitals.

“The rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past few weeks has pushed our hospitals to capacity, creating an urgent need for hospital beds,” said Jennifer Schultz, OU Health Senior Vice President of Marketing and External Relations.

As hospitals continue to grapple with a shortage of nurses, they say the increase of COVID-19 patients is pushing them to the brink.

Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU Health Chief COVID Officer, says most of the state is still experiencing high transmission of the virus.

On average, the state is experiencing 2,213 new COVID-19 cases each day.

On Monday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported that there were 1,392 people hospitalized with the virus, including 51 pediatric patients.

Dr. Bratzler says that while our case number hasn’t reached what Oklahoma experienced at the peak, our hospitalizations are closing the gap.

“We saw at the peak just under 2,000 hospitalizations in Oklahoma for COVID-19. Right now, we’re just under 1,400 people in the hospital with COVID-19, which puts us at 70% of the peak. The key message here is that a larger portion of people who are being diagnosed now with COVID-19 are ending up in the hospital,” he said.

He says he has heard of multiple reports of Oklahoma patients being sent out of state because of a lack of bed space.

Bratzler stresses that emergency rooms are backed up, meaning patients who need immediate care may be forced to wait for hours.

“If you get into a car accident, have a heart attack, need an emergency surgery or yes, even if you have a stroke, there is a chance you might not get the time-sensitive care you need. These are all medical emergencies where every minute is crucial and when our hospitals are filled to capacity, we are just not able to provide the timely care that we normally offer,” said Dr. Bahar Malakouti, neurohospitalist and stroke medical director at Mercy Hospital.

Dr. Malakouti says that they are experiencing a shortage in the number of beds at Mercy Hospital, which is stopping them from accepting patients in need of critical care.

“The minute a bed opens, a patient is waiting in our ER to fill that bed or it has already been promised to a patient waiting in another hospital to be transferred,” said Dr. Malakouti.

She says the progression of this latest COVID strain has them all concerned.

“Patients wake up with a cough on Monday and by Friday, we’re having to tell their families there’s nothing else we can do,” she said.

Reagan Wickwire, an ICU nurse at SSM Health St. Anthony, says that as cases started climbing in recent weeks, nurses have become disheartened.

“I can’t tell you how debilitating that news has been. While not surprising, it was confirmation of my fellow Saints in Action’s fears that Oklahomans have not been taking the simple steps of wearing masks, and getting a free, safe vaccine. And family and neighbors are paying for those decisions with their lives,” Wickwire said. “Not only are patients flooding into hospitals at a rate higher than this point last year, but the patients are sicker. In my firsthand experience, they are taking fewer days to need critical care and fewer days to reach the need for bypass machines or ventilators, and they are much younger.”

Previously, the majority of COVID-19 hospitalized patients were in their 60s or older.

This time, Wickwire says they are seeing patients in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who are fighting for their lives.

Doctors stressed that they are tired of the pandemic and want it to be over too. However, they say it won’t end until people begin taking steps to protect themselves and others.

“I know people are tired. I know people are frustrated. I know people want this pandemic to be over. I want this pandemic to be over for my children, family, friends, and the hundreds of patients we care for every day. I want life to return to normal. And life will return to normal when we all lean in and do what it takes to beat this virus. As you’ve heard this morning, COVID-19 is not over yet. It is picking up steam and claiming more lives, younger lives. Young mothers and fathers who didn’t think they would get that sick, who were healthy before, who might’ve heard false information about the vaccines that could have saved their lives,” said Dr. Julie Watson, Chief Medical Officer for INTEGRIS Health.

Dr. Watson says that COVID-19 vaccines are the best protection you have against the virus, which is already wreaking havoc on our hospitals.

While vaccinated individuals can still contract COVID-19, Watson says people who are vaccinated are 600 times less likely than the unvaccinated to need hospitalization.

At this point, more than 90% of patients who come to the hospital for treatment are unvaccinated.

“These patients believe in us when they are sick but seemingly haven’t trusted us when we’ve shared with them how to stay well. It is heartbreaking and exhausting,” she said.

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