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Staffing biggest challenge at SE Health as COVID hospitalizations reach record-high
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Staffing biggest challenge at SE Health as COVID hospitalizations reach record-high

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Staffing biggest challenge at SE Health as COVID hospitalizations reach record-high

Southeast Health Chief Nursing Officer Melissa Owens (right) and nurse technician Destiny Allen talk about the welfare of a patient at the hospital on Wednesday.

Dothan’s largest hospital reported its second-consecutive day of record numbers of current COVID patient hospitalizations on Wednesday while saying the facility's biggest challenge is staffing.

Southeast Health reported 59 hospitalizations on Tuesday – its highest number since it started accepting COVID patients in March. That number rose to another record of 64 patients as of 10 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Chief Nursing Officer Melissa Owens said the Critical Care Unit and Medical/Surgery floor have been on diversion – meaning the hospital can no longer accept transfer patients from out-of-area medical facilities – for the last week and a half, as it is running low on staff to care for those patients.

“It’s certainly a challenge. So far, we’re making do with what we have,” Owens said.

The hospital has offered contracts for travel nurses, but has not been able to fill them as the demand for travel nurses drove many to early hard-hit areas in other states.

Administration has been creative in solutions to both increase available space for COVID patients and maintain adequate staffing levels.

For the time-being, the hospital is offering crisis staffing incentives to its current hospital personnel to work extra shifts.

Some patients are remaining in the emergency department until they can be moved to the fourth floor, which has been designated for COVID patients. Isolation rooms have turned into rooms for overflow critical care patients.

A “discharge lounge” has been created to get discharged patients out of their rooms quicker so that environmental services can clean and sanitize the room for more COVID patients. Nurses have also been doing “in-hallway boarding” to evaluate patients as they’re waiting on a room to become available.

“We’ve met with several community leaders to discuss the different levers we could pull to continue caring for patients in our community,” Owens said.

Administrators are worried about the community spread of the virus and more patients coming in needing lifesaving intervention, like ventilators.

Through the week of July 10, the hospital admitted 27 patients; the week of July 17, the hospital admitted 55 patients and admitted another 53 patients the following week. That number will likely climb again this week, but Owens is hoping the number will begin to level out as the effects of Gov. Kay Ivey’s mask mandate are seen through the next week.

On Wednesday, Ivey expanded the reach of the mask mandate to include students starting in 2nd grade and extended it through August.

The age range for COVID patients requiring hospitalization remains the same – most patients are between the ages of 48 and 65. While some patients are being admitted from nursing homes, most COVID patients are just people in the community.

Many of the patients admitted have underlying health problems, such as chronic lung disease, heart disease, and respiratory-related problems. However, many patients seem otherwise healthy before seeking treatment, though some have discovered underlying health conditions they didn’t know they had, like diabetes or high blood pressure.

Though a large number of children have tested positive for the virus, none has required admittance to Southeast Health.

Most of the patients admitted are Alabama residents, and there an equal number of women and men at this time, whereas before incoming patients were mostly men.

Owens said the hospital has not been diligent in tracking the source of infection, but in her observations and in conversations with nurses and providers, she has noted that many patients fall ill after coming into contact with a family member with the virus or attending a large gathering of people.

The Wiregrass saw another 77 cases in the last 24 hours, according to updated numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health on Wednesday. Houston County added another 25 cases, bringing it to 1,187 total cases. Data for other area counties, include: Dale County, 729 (+16); Coffee, 664 (+15); Covington, 651 (+7); Geneva, 198 (+4); Barbour, 538 (+3); Henry, 227 (+3); and Pike, 616 (+4).

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