Ballad Health on COVID-19: ‘Right now, our hospitalizations are doubling every 7 days’


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Officials with Ballad Health told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that there has been a definite rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Tri-Cities region and that treatment options have diversified over the last six months.

“Right now, our hospitalizations are doubling every 7 days, so if we continue that trend, you know, that’s going to give us a very large number of hospitalized cases in a very short amount of time,” said Ballad Health Corporate Director of Infection Prevention Jamie Swift.

Testing is looking different, too, Swift said.

“Typically, what we’re seeing right now is, as our daily case count increase, so a lot of those patients right now are being tested asymptomatically or mild symptoms, which is good, we encourage that – if you have any symptoms, we certainly encourage testing. What we then see is as those cases that are in the community progress through the course of the disease, they may require hospitalization 7-10 days later to two weeks later,” she explained. “How long they’re in the hospital really varies on what organ system and what’s being affected.”

On Wednesday, Ballad Health reported 26 COVID-19 hospitalizations within the health care system. That number is up from 21 on Tuesday.

Dr. Clay Runnels, Chief Executive Physician for Ballad Health told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that the demographics of COVID-19 patients is changing too.

“We have seen a rise in infections in younger patients, which of course, we know leads to fewer hospitalizations than the older population,” he explained. “There is a larger effect, generally, on patients that are older or have other serious illnesses concurrent with COVID, but that’s not all of them. Some very young healthy people have become very sick with this illness, it’s a smaller percentage, but it’s definitely there.”

He added that healthcare professionals are constantly learning new ways to fight this disease.

“Six months ago, we knew very little about this infection, this virus, and it’s been a learning process for healthcare in general and for us regionally as well. We continue to learn, it’s not a stagnant process, it’s something that’s ongoing to learn the best way to care for patients who are infected with COVID-19,” Runnels said.

Medications used to treat patients in Ballad hospitals now include: Hydrodroxichloroqine, Remdesivr and Decadron.

“With regard to medication, there’s been a lot in the press about hydrodroxichloroqine, and a lot of evidence that says it’s helpful versus evidence that says it’s not, and we continue to sort through that but it does seem to be one weapon that we do have against COVID-19 that needs to be used in the appropriate setting for the patient. remdesivr has now become available and we’re using that, but that’s primarily, again for hospitalized patients that are worsening. It has been shown to reduce the severity of illness or at least, the length of the illness in people that are really ill with COVID-19 and are in a hospitalized setting. And then there are other treatments that are emerging as well, such as decadron, which is an anti-inflamatory sterroid, which is showing some promise at reducing symptoms for patients and also reducing some morbidity and mortality for patients who are very sick with COVID-19.”

Dr. Clay Runnels, Chief Executive Physician for Ballad Health

Non-medication treatments have also been revolutionized, he explained.

“Early on, when treating COVID-19 there was an early intubation approach, where we would intubate the patients early and put them on a ventilator when their oxygen levels were low, We’ve learned some unique things about this infection, including that patients do better with lower oxygen levels than they do with other disease processes, and so we’re much slower to intubate patients and put them on ventilators. We’ve also learned the importance of positioning patients so that they can get maximum oxygenation regarding treatment of patients that have COVID-19 and the importance of ‘proning’ which is where you roll them over on their stomach for a period of time during the day to help them oxygenate better, and that works both for intubated patients and for patients who are not intubated or on a ventilator.”

Dr. Clay Runnels, Chief Executive Physician for Ballad Health

Officials said there is a genuine concern that Ballad Health hospitals might run low on resources if the hospitalizations continue to rise.

“Right now we have plenty of resources to take care of the patients that we have but there’s a significant concern because at some point, a health system does run out of resources as the number of particularly hospitalized patients increases, and right now we have capacity to take care of the patients that are ill in our system and in our region,” Runnels said.

Swift concurred: “We do have capacity, we can make decisions that will open up beds, but our goal is to keep all of our beds open, be able to maintain our COVID patients while maintaining all of our active services.”

At Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s weekly media briefing, he asked the state’s top health official to deliver a COVID-19 update.

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercy said statewide, COVID-19 cases are rising, and hospital bed numbers are falling.

“We look at hospital capacity on a daily basis and we’ve seen it tick down, the available beds, just a little bit, it’s not into the concerning area. You’re probably familiar – we use a red, yellow, green, it’s just in the last couple of days it’s gone from green to yellow. That’s not terribly unusual, it fluctuates there sometimes but what is not fluctuating is the number of hospital patients, hospitalized patients. They’re going up by the day. And so we’re keeping a close eye on that – today’s number is around 750 hospitalized patients statewide those are primarily concentrated in the Nashville and Memphis markets, but we are starting to see some increases in the Knoxville and Chattanooga markets as well as Jackson and Tri-Cities and so pretty much every large hospital system in the state is having growing numbers of COVID patients. And so nobody’s in any type of critical need right now. And the other thing we’re doing and helping hospital support is making sure they have enough staff because they might have beds all day long, but if you don’t have staff to work those beds then you essentially don’t have capacity. So most acutely in the Memphis market, talking to the hospital leaders down there, I believe there’s a call scheduled tomorrow to make sure they have the staffing that they need and to ask what we can do to support that. Prepared to do that in Nashville and in other markets as needed. It’s something that’s definitely on our radar and something we’re keeping a close eye on. Right now, we’re okay.”

Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercy

Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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