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Louisville area hospital systems 'very full' as COVID hospitalizations increase

Officials with Baptist Health and UofL Health said they have pushed back some elective surgeries.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — While officials with Louisville's hospital systems say they are not overwhelmed, chief medical officers from Baptist Health, Norton Healthcare and UofL Health say they are "very full."

Jefferson County remains in the COVID-19 red zone, with 3,226 new cases and 14 deaths in the last week. Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage with the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness said the county's positivity rate is reaching its peak, hitting 13.11%.

Hospitalizations continue to increase across the state. Gov. Andy Beshear reported Monday that 1,893 Kentuckians are in the hospital, 529 of which are in intensive care.

Dr. Steve Hester with Norton Healthcare said their system is nearing peak admissions in December. Norton currently has 197 COVID-19 patients, 179 of whom are not vaccinated. The average age of unvaccinated patients is 53, while the average vaccinated patient is 74.

While Norton has yet to reach its peak COVID admissions, Dr. Chuck Anderson with Baptist Health said their hospital system has recorded more admission this time around than during their peak this winter.

In Hardin County, Baptist Health Hardin has requested federal help with staffing because of the soaring hospitalization rates.

"Anticipating that continued trend is the reason we asked for additional staffing,” said Sharon Wright, vice president of patient care and Baptist Health Hardin’s incident commander for COVID response.

Administrators said right now, staffing levels are adequate, but her team is exhausted.

"You take the frustration and you take the emotional and spiritual toll it takes on them and it's a tiring time for all our staff right now,” said Steve White, assistant vice president of operations at Baptist Health Hardin.

A month ago, Baptist Health Hardin had four to five COVID patients. As of Tuesday, they had between 75-80.

Eighty-five percent of those patients are not vaccinated.

Anderson said about 25% of Baptist's COVID patients are vaccinated, but the hospital's patients tend to be the older population. Baptist Health has 16 patients in its critical care unit, the vast majority of whom are in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

Baptist Health has had to delay some elective surgeries as Anderson said their hospitals have received patients from other hospital systems.

"Backing off on some of the surgeries allowed them to accept more critically ill people from other hospitals," Anderson said.

UofL Health has also pushed back some elective surgeries as they provide beds to patients transferring from other hospitals. Dr. Jason Smith said the decision to delay procedures is "flattening the curve" of admissions to better treat everyone. UofL currently has 144 COVID patients, 10 less than their peak. Only seven are vaccinated.

Still, Smith said Kentucky's hospital systems have worked well together and Hester said he is confident Louisville hospitals can manage capacity without being overwhelmed.

"There's no question that Louisville's medical systems have felt the strains of COVID-19, and our health care workers have been through a really, really difficult time," Mayor Greg Fischer said.

Officials from all three hospital systems stressed the importance of patience, saying health care workers have been going through a difficult time for more than a year.

"These folks go in every day to make sure they're there and available," Hester said. "Patience is important in the process and kindness is important."

All chief medical officers said they have seen the efficacy of vaccines in patients, especially those who are not immunocompromised. Nearly 60% of Louisville residents have received their first dose of the vaccine, while 51.9% are fully vaccinated.

"Get your vaccine so we don't have to meet in person," Smith said.

Baptist, Norton and UofL are offering third doses to people who are immunocompromised, and have plans in place for when booster shots are approved for everyone.

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