Ephraim McDowell hospital expecting Omicron surge

Published 7:11 am Monday, January 10, 2022

Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center expects an increase in patients from the omicron surge in the next few weeks.

States across the country are seeing record-high COVID-19 case counts, and Kentucky is no different. On Jan. 7, the state reported a record high one-day case count of 11,096, which shattered the previous record of 6,915 that was set just a few days prior, on Jan 4.

These case counts are almost double what they were in January 2021, possibly because the new omicron variant is the most contagious one yet. EMRMC Vice President of Clinical Effectiveness Jason Dean said the hospital is not yet seeing more COVID patients, but expects an increase in the next four to five weeks.

An increase in cases usually brings more hospitalizations; however, experts say omicron is a less serious version of the disease than other variants like delta. Looking back at the delta surge in August and September 2021, Dean said all of EMRMC’s ICU beds were being used; 60% of them for COVID patients.

Early on, the hospital converted a space into an 11-bed unit specifically for COVID patients. During the recent surge, they opened up a whole med surg floor, creating 30 additional rooms for COVID patients, which can be opened again for the next surge if needed. They also increased ICU beds from 12 to 14.

During the two months of August and September of 2021, the hospital treated 320 COVID patients, which is significantly more than their four-month total of 458 from September through December.

The hospital’s mortality rate for COVID patients was 16% for the 2021 year. But during the surge from August through October, the average mortality rate was 18%.

Dean explained that delta sent more people to the hospital than previous versions of coronavirus; and while omicron is more transmissible, it may not cause as many hospitalizations.

“I think we’ll see a higher outpatient community surge, probably more affecting ER visits and family practice clinics,” Dean said. “We will see some of that surge in the hospital, but I’m hoping we will not see 300 patients in two months. But we’re definitely prepared if we do see that surge.”

However, the sheer unprecedented number of cases in this surge, which is double the number of the last surge, could cause as many or more hospitalizations.

Dean said people in Kentucky should not take omicron lightly because the state is not highly vaccinated. In Boyle County, about 54% of people are fully vaccinated and 40% have gotten booster shots, while the U.S. vaccination rate is 62.5%.

Vaccination has proven to decrease death rates in states where more people are vaccinated. Dean said those who are not vaccinated have a higher chance of having to be hospitalized from omicron.

EMRMC opened a vaccine clinic when the vaccines were fairly new, when many places did not have them yet.

The hospital stopped doing the clinic in December since vaccines are now available at any pharmaceutical company. Dean said the clinic will likely not come back, but encouraged everyone to get vaccinated or get a booster shot if they haven’t already.

Besides serving Boyle, Casey, Lincoln, Garrard, Mercer, and Washington counties, the hospital treated COVID patients as far south as Somerset and Corbin during the last surge when hospitals in those areas were overwhelmed. The highest percentage of COVID patients came from Lincoln County, followed by Boyle and Mercer.

Dean said their biggest ongoing challenges from the pandemic are the psychological and emotional aspects. The number of people who die in the hospital, some of whom pass without family members there, takes a big toll on staff, families, and the community.

“I think that’s the biggest thing to take away as we move forward,” Dean said. “We’re learning every time we have a surge how we can change and how we can approach it.”