Cases around the area have been rising, and area health professionals are improvising to meet needs during the pandemic.
As of Monday evening, Winchester Medical Center had 102 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and another 14 patients awaiting test results.
“A hundred is a significant number,” said Dr. Nicolas Restrepo, vice president of medical affairs for Valley Health.
However, the hospital has fewer patients with COVID than without.
The hospital can accommodate more patients as needed, Restrepo said, and it has not reached capacity. In addition to adding beds in other units, if needed, he said the staff can also pare down its services to shift more resources to COVID patients.
Valley Health has already postponed elective and other non-essential services during the height of the pandemic and is assessing the health concerns of individual patients on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re constantly adjusting to the demand,” he said.
Though he said WMC has more available space and resources, he admitted that the hospital experience during the pandemic can appear to be chaotic and overwhelming.
“A lot of it is the fact that it is a taxing environment on the team,” he said. “[COVID is] a resource-intense patient need.”
There is less support staff in the building too, such as chaplaincy and family support, which he said patients might be used to seeing at the hospital.
“When they say the place is overwhelmed, it is at times an overwhelming experience for the care team,” he said.
“I don’t know that there’s necessarily a cap, a limit,” he said when asked how many patients WMC can accommodate before having to reach out to other regional facilities.
However, he said that transferring patients to get better or different care at another facility would be nothing new for WMC or Valley Health’s other five area hospitals.
Winchester has in the past taken patients from Charlottesville, Roanoke and Richmond, for example, and Shenandoah Memorial Hospital recently sent a patient for care in Hagerstown, Maryland.
“It’s a very collaborative effort,” he said. “We will work regionally with other facilities if patients can be better cared for there.”
Valley Health also has 27 patients with COVID and eight awaiting tests across its other hospitals in Warren County, Shenandoah County and Page County as well as Berkeley and Hampshire counties in West Virginia.
Hospital COVID tests take three to four hours for a result, Restrepo said.
Though patient numbers are high so far during the pandemic, he said it’s less a matter of total patients and more the specific nature of a pandemic that taxes the health-care system.
In past years, he said the hospital has seen as many if not more influenza patients than its current total of COVID patients.
“Has our census ever been this high? Absolutely,” Restrepo said. But that’s only the half of it.
The pandemic requires certain hospital resources that the flu doesn’t require, such as personal protective equipment and the space to socially distance patients at least until they’re cleared as not having COVID and can be treated with other resources. It also affects hospital staffing when employees need to quarantine at home after being exposed to the virus, regardless of whether they are sick or exhibiting symptoms.
“This year [was] particularly compounded by COVID,” Restrepo said. The stress on the staff, he said, “is different now than it’s ever been before.”
One silver lining, though, is that so far the hospital has had few if any flu patients this season.
“As of a week ago, we had not,” he said.
Correction: This story has been updated to say that Winchester Medical Center currently has fewer patients with COVID than without and that a Valley Health patient was recently transferred from Shenandoah Memorial Hospital to Hagerstown, Maryland.