With Knox County sporting among the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the nation, Barbourville ARH Hospital Community CEO Charles Lovell and Director of Emergency Services and Chief of Staff Dr. Randall Walters spoke to The Mountain Advocate about the pressure put on the hospital and healthcare providers.
“It’s bad, there’s nowhere to get patients to,” said Lovell of the present situation. Like other neighboring facilities, Barbourville ARH Hospital is facing a surge of COVID-19 patients, the vast majority unvaccinated.
“There are going to be two kinds of people in Knox County. People who get vaccinated and people who get sick. Of the ones that get sick, one to two percent will die and the rest will get sicker than they’ve ever been in their life,” said Walters. “Some of them will have permanent, lifelong illness from it.” Walters added that even if vaccinated people contract the more aggressive Delta variant, they are less likely to become so sick as to require hospitalization.
Roughly 95% of the hospital’s COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, with nearly 100% of the patients on life support being unvaccinated. These stats are in line with other facilities across the region. Walters stated “This is an epidemic of the unvaccinated.”
Lovell commended his staff for achieving a vaccination rate of 89.5% for the entire hospital so far. “I’m so very proud,” he said.
“Everybody had gotten relaxed and they still are,” Lovell said of the case surge. “The number one thing is to wear a mask,” he added, saying maskers seem to be in the minority in public areas.
Walters pointed out that “We stopped influenza cold by wearing masks,” referring to some people’s beliefs that masks are ineffective. The 2020 flu season that ran from September 27 to April 24 of this year saw only 2,038 flu cases reported by the CDC, down from 38 million the year before and an average of 48 million per year over the last decader. “This makes influenza look like a walk through the park,” Walters stated.
“People can call and we’ll get them a vaccine, often that day,” said Lovell. He continued, “if people saw what we saw, they’d believe in it.”
Walters recounted patients asking for the vaccine after getting sick. “It’s too late,” he’d say. Walters stated that more than half the facility’s ER beds are being used by admitted patients with nowhere to send them.
Lovell noted that local EMS were taking patients to whatever the closest possible hospital was with a bed.
“The staff are exhausted,” said Lovell.
Lovell’s and Walters words echoed those of leaders from Baptist Health Corbin and CHI Saint Joseph London in a recent press conference. A major pointed noted by all of them — hospitals have not seen their peak yet.