A look inside the COVID ICU: Staff exhausted by latest surge in hospitalizations

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Health officials in the Tri-Cities region have stressed the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic on medical personnel. On Tuesday, Ballad Health granted News Channel 11 a look inside the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to show just how serious this virus is.

In the COVID-19 ICU, resources are strained to meet the growing need for critical care. New patients are arriving in the care unit every day, and staff say their medical conditions are serious.

“These patients are the sickest ones that we have here,” said Morgan May, Chief Nursing Officer of the Johnson City Medical Center.

Several of the patients were enjoying their summers just weeks ago. Then their symptoms began.

“People are coming in with some mild respiratory symptoms and needing a little bit of oxygen and then next week they’re maxed out on all the support they can give them,” said registered nurse Micah Redden. “It’s pretty scary stuff.”

Patients are cared for in isolated rooms that were deemed too risky by Ballad Health infection control managers for News Channel 11 to enter.

“All of the patients on this unit are on a ventilator,” May said. “They have a machine breathing for them. They’re sedated and in certain circumstances, they’re paralyzed.”

In July, the COVID-19 units had been closed. Staff in the COVID ICU at the Johnson City Medical Center said the surge in hospitalizations has come fast and hard.

“Our numbers as far as COVID-19 goes have just exponentially increased, and it’s straining all of our resources,” Redden said. “We just got knocked on our tails with the surge of the patients that are coming.”

Nursing staff in the COVID ICU says this surge is different than earlier ones. Patients in their care are younger than before.

“Now we’re seeing people in that next age group down,” Redden said. “The late 30s up to the mid-50s, and they’re just as sick as the older adults were last year.”

They say another difference in this surge is that now, there’s widespread availability of the vaccine. But nurses in the COVID-19 ICU say almost all of the patients they are treating are unvaccinated.

“It’s the emotional exhaustion that brings people down,” May said. “When you don’t see an end in sight for something that doesn’t have to be this way.”

 “It’s difficult to see people realize it’s not a hoax,” Redden said.

Redden said he is demoralized by people who believe that the pandemic is a hoax.

“I just shake my head and think ‘we’ll see you in a little bit on the other side of the bed,'” said Redden.

While visiting the ICU, News Channel 11 saw an area of JCMC being quickly converted into another COVID-19 ICU to make room for 10 more intensive care patients.

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