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SOUNDING THE ALARM | Here's a look at hospital bed and ventilator availability in the Valley

"We have more patients now in the hospitals than we had in the spring. To me, that emphasizes the point that the time for the community to act is now," said Mercy Health's Dr. James Kravec.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated to include the exact dates on which Trumbull Regional Medical Center reported hospital bed availability in September and October.]

CEDARVILLE — St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital had only five available beds on Oct. 30, according to hospital capacity data reported to the state.

But that's not many fewer than the hospital reported in early March, before the first wave of coronavirus cases blazed across the state.

Mahoning Matters on Monday reviewed — albeit incomplete — hospital capacity and inventory data the Ohio Department of Health provided to Eye on Ohio.

That day, medical officials representing health networks from around the state on Monday pleaded with Ohioans for more caution amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is beginning to overtax the state's hospitals. New health department data expected to be published later this week should illustrate that stress.

Gov. Mike DeWine, during a special briefing on the state's coronavirus response, said 4,358 people were in an Ohio hospital for COVID-19 as of Monday, a 59 percent increase from just two weeks ago. Of those, 179 people are currently in intensive care units, which is also a marked increase, he said.

Sixty days ago, there were about 600 people hospitalized in the state, according to Dr. Robert Wyllie of the Cleveland Clinic, who represented the healthcare response region that includes the Mahoning Valley.

"We can't sound the alarm bell loud enough to people in the State of Ohio to change their behavior," said Dr. Andy Thomas of Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.

Caregivers sidelined by COVID-19

Ohio's Zone 1, which includes Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties and more than 30 other counties in northern Ohio, has seen a "sharp increase" in the number of health care workers who have become infected, according to DeWine's office.

Wyllie said 970 of Cleveland Clinic's caregivers were infected as of Monday. Those cases are rising alongside the number of community cases, he said.

"Our urge is that we need your help in terms of trying to prevent our caregivers from being sick and being off work," Wyllie said.

Dr. James Kravec, chief clinical officer for Mercy Health, said the health system has noted coronavirus cases among employees, but it's "comfortable" in its staffing model which it continues to monitor "closely."

Spokesperson Jonathon Fauvie on Monday declined to provide information on absenteeism rates in the hospital system.

"The caregivers are amazing and they do a wonderful job," Kravec said. "This is hard. They've been doing this for 10 months. It's busier now than ever and it's taking a toll on staff.

"I just ask for patience for the staff. They're truly caring about their patients and truly doing everything they can. They're just very busy."

Ohio hospital capacity

Ronda Lehman, president of Mercy Health's Lima market, said Lima's St. Rita's Medical Center infected patients are currently coming in faster than the hospital can safely discharge.

For the first time, health systems have begun transferring patients between them in order to balance the load of new cases, and have also for the first time begun transferring equipment like ventilators to hospitals that have reached capacity, Wyllie said.

Weekly hospital capacity is one of the Ohio Public Health Advisory System's seven coronavirus risk indicators. Counties meet the threshold when their region's overall hospital capacity hits 80 percent for at least three days.

In the region including the Valley, hospital capacity has hovered between 73.9 percent and 79.6 percent for the week ending Nov. 17, according to the system.

"We're continuing to see a large number of COVID patients," Kravec said. "We have more patients now in the hospitals than we had in the spring. To me, that emphasizes the point that the time for the community to act is now."

Mercy Health Youngstown plans to indefinitely suspend all elective surgeries that require an overnight stay in hospital, beginning Thursday.

"This decision was made to safeguard the health of our patients, associates and the communities we serve," reads a Monday release.

In a statement to Mahoning Matters Monday, a spokesperson for Steward Health Care, which operates Trumbull Regional Medical Center, wrote:

“Trumbull Regional Medical Center and Steward facilities remain prepared to properly care for patients with COVID-19. We continue to work closely with the local health department and have been taking proactive steps to ensure that we have the staffing and resources needed.

"We encourage the community to continue following all CDC and Ohio Department of Health guidelines and continue wearing a mask in public, social distancing and avoiding large crowds and gatherings, especially over the upcoming holiday," a spokesperson added.

Investigative journalists share new hospital data

Eye on Ohio earlier this year requested Ohio Department of Health data showing the availability of beds, medical equipment such as ventilators and PPE like gloves and masks at hospitals across the state.

The data provided last week, however, spans only from the beginning of March to Oct. 30, and stops right before cases began to skyrocket in the state in early November. More than 40 percent of the state's about 363,000 cumulative cases were reported in the last 30 days, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard. And hospitalizations are also climbing alongside new cases, doctors said Monday.

According to the data, hospitals across the Mahoning Valley, with few exceptions, are working with about the same hospital capacity they had about a month ago. It's important to note the below data are a "snapshot" in time of hospital capacty, which constantly fluctuates:

St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital

Date Total available beds Total available ventilators
March 9 (including 1 "critical care") on March 4 20 on March 19
Sept. 30 13 (zero "critical care") 23
Oct. 30 5 (including "critical care") 28

St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital

Date Total available beds Total available ventilators
March 59 (including 5 "critical care") on March 4 5 on March 19
Sept. 30 20 (including 7 "critical care") 13
Oct. 30 30 (including 10 "critical care") 12

Akron Children's Hospital Mahoning Valley

Date Total available beds (pediatric) Total available ventilators
March 18 on March 1 10 on March 19
Sept. 30 18 15
October 23 on Oct. 30 14 on Oct. 21

St. Joseph Warren Hospital

Date Total available beds Total available ventilators
March 25 (including 5 "critical care") on March 4 11 on March 19
Sept. 30 29 (zero "critical care") 9
Oct. 30 27 (including 3 "critical care") 9

Trumbull Regional Medical Center

Date Total available beds Total available ventilators
March 48 (including 14 "critical care") on March 4 8 on March 19
September 94 (including 15 "critical care") on Sept. 21 40 on Sept. 8
October 86 (including 16 "critical care") on Oct. 21 43 on Oct. 7

Salem Regional Medical Center

Date Total available beds Total available ventilators
March 29 (including 3 "critical care") on March 4 17 on March 19
Sept. 30 29 (including 6 "critical care") 27
Oct. 30 46 (including 1 "critical care") 27

East Liverpool City Hospital

Date Total available beds Total available ventilators
March 12 (including 2 "critical care") on March 4 10 on March 19
Sept. 30 48 (including 4 "critical care") 20
Oct. 30 54 (including 6 "critical care") 20

None of the Valley hospitals reported quantities of available PPE like N95 masks, gloves or gowns.

It's unclear why the department did not include data from Oct. 31 onward, but Eye on Ohio reported Monday evening receiving new data, which it expects to publish later this week.

"This is the time for us to pull together and work through this crisis together," said Bonnie Jean Feldkamp, the investigative journalist who reported on Eye on Ohio's legal victory over the state health department for the records, in an op-ed published in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

"Transparency is key to a working relationship as well as public trust. Lack of transparency and what can only be called secrecy, fuels distrust and misinformation," Feldkamp wrote. "Conclusions can only be drawn to say that ODH either: A.) does not have the data they claim to have; or B.) the state is in such dire circumstances that they don’t want Ohio residents to know."

Other news

• According to the latest figures Monday from the Ohio Department of Health, the state is reporting 363,304 confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus. There have been 7,068 confirmed or suspected cases in Mahoning County; 5,159 in Trumbull County; and 3,395 in Columbiana County.

• Statewide, there have been 6,020 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 deaths, including 299 in Mahoning County; 144 in Trumbull; and 97 in Columbiana. Mahoning County's 299 reported COVID-19 deaths on Monday was sixth among Ohio's 88 counties; Cuyahoga County had the most with 736.

• In nearby counties: Stark, 8,529 cases and 197 deaths; Portage, 3,344 cases and 71 deaths; and Ashtabula, 2,157 cases and 53 deaths.

Youngstown State University reported 60 new coronavirus cases on Monday. Of the new cases, 50 were reported by students who live off-campus, five cases were students that live on-campus and five cases were reported by employees. The university has reported 220 total cases from Aug. 1 through Nov. 11.

• After a COVID-19 scare that left it operating for an extended period with less than half of its crew, Boardman Fire Department is back to full capacity. While the department had temporarily stopped responding to medical calls because of staffing, it began responding to them again Friday, said Fire Chief Mark Pitzer.

• A bill the Ohio GOP says provides checks and balances to the state’s health orders during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to draw fire. Democrats say Senate Bill 311, which gives legislative oversight to health orders, will cause more Ohioans to become sick and die. The bill passed at the same time Ohio’s largest county – Franklin – became the first to be designated as purple under the state’s color-coded COVID-19 map.

• According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health on Monday, there are 314,401 COVID-19 cases in the state which have led to 9,870 deaths. The state said the recovery rate is 63 percent. There have been 2,410 confirmed or suspected cases in Mercer County and 39 deaths; 1,872 cases in Lawrence County and 64 deaths.

• Last call for Pennsylvania bars will be at 5 p.m. on Wednesday to cut COVID-19 transmission during what is normally a night of heavy public drinking, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday. Wolf also imposed new crowd size limits of 500 people indoors and 2,500 outdoors and vowed there would be heightened enforcement of mask-wearing requirements.

• A Pennsylvania legislator filed a complaint with the state Department of Health over what she calls unsafe working conditions in the General Assembly. Philadelphia Democrat state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler said her colleagues’ refusal to wear masks or socially distance on the House floor or in committee meetings endangers everyone – especially since lawmakers travel back to their communities after attending session.

Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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