PRINCETON — Local health care agencies and county leaders held a press conference Monday afternoon in front of the Mercer County Courthouse to ask for the community’s help in handling the growing number of Covid cases and to emphasize the stress now being placed on the system.
The bottom line with all of them is for everyone who can to get vaccinated, and Keith Gunnoe, director of the county’s Emergency Management Services, said they also want the community to be aware of the current situation.
The current surge of the Delta variant is seeing everyone from rescue squad personnel and the 911 center to hospital workers doing all they can to make sure all residents receive the care they need. But it is a challenge.
Karen Bowling, Princeton Community Hospital president and CEO, said anyone who comes to the hospital and needs a bed in ICU may have to wait in the Emergency Department because a bed may not be available, and that may get worse.
“We will see Covid infections over the next few weeks,” she said of the prediction the surge may peak within the next month. “Many of these people will end up in the hospital. The majority of the patients who are hospitalized and in our ICU are unvaccinated.”
Even after the surge peaks, more hospitalizations and deaths will occur for seven to 10 days, she said, because of the lag time from onset to severe symptoms.
Bowling said a triage system is in place at the PCH ER and some patients may be screened in an ambulance and stay in that bed until one is available in the ER.
“That is a very good way to triage until we determine what needs to be done with that patient,” she said.
But that means the ambulance may not be available for another call.
The goal is to provide the needed care for all patients, she said, but there are times when all ICU beds in the state are full and when a bed does become available, it may not be at PCH.
“We are going to continue to take excellent care of our patients,” she said, but the pandemic is not over and the state statistics show record numbers of people in the hospitals, in ICUs and on ventilators. “The best way you can help us is to go get vaccinated,” wear masks, avoid crowds and use basic mitigation measures.
Bowling urged everyone to avoid coming to the ER unless it is an acute illness.
Roger Topping, Mercer County Health Department administrator, said the numbers of positive cases continue to soar, with more than 900 in August and September on track to exceed that.
Linda Hutchens, director of the Bluestone Health System, said 254 Covid tests were administered last week and 124 of them were positive.
Stacey Hicks, president and CEO of the Princeton Rescue Squad, also asked residents not to call 911 unless it is a serous emergency.
Don’t call if you stub your toe, he said, adding that he is short on personnel and trying to hire EMS workers.
“Being transported by an ambulance to the ER does not put you at the front of the line once you get there,” he said. “All you are going to do is tie up an ambulance that may be needed for a true emergency.”
Hicks also said three of his emergency personnel recently caught Covid transporting patients and have to be quarantined.
“Help us out; put on a mask,” he said, adding that everyone should get vaccinated.
Hicks said that throughout the pandemic Mercer County has done a great job, and the agencies and hospital work together to make it successful.
“We are all working very hard to try to take care of our community,” he said. “But we do need the community’s help.”
Sean Cantrell, COO of the Bluefield Rescue Squad, said patient transports can “bottleneck” rescue squads but they all work together and communicate with one another.
Cantrell said there can be wait times because of the demand, and ambulances also have to be decontaminated after a Covid patient is transported.
“We do have wait times,” he said. “It’s a national problem; it’s not just a local problem.”
Topping said the high number of cases can be “overwhelming” to the hospitals and ambulance services.
“Let’s not talk about personal rights,” he said. “Let’s make this about health care … Let’s talk about people getting vaccinated so that their kids, their parents, their neighbors and friends won’t get Covid.”
Vaccination is the only way to eventually stop the pandemic, he said.
Topping also said he supports President Joe Biden’s move that companies with 100 or more employees require vaccinations or weekly tests, and besides the overall benefit to community health and stopping the spread, it also helps prevent a company from having a large number of employees absent from work at one time because they are sick or quarantined.
Commissioner Greg Puckett said they all care about the community and want to “make sure everybody is safe and protected.”
Puckett said the reality of the current surge hit him a few weeks ago when his grandmother was taken to the ER but had to wait for hours.
That is when he fully understood the reality of the situation.
“Please get vaccinated,” he said, “not only for yourself but for the protection of the community. What’s it going to take? How many times do we have to have a press conference? It’s not just about you and it’s not just about your loved ones. It’s about everyone coping with this issue each and every day, all the way down to our funeral homes.”
Puckett said it is not about the individual but about the community and “how we can get over this.”