• 84°

Local health care specialists feeling the impacts of COVID-19

By Lauren Johnson

Health care specialists have said the past three weeks have been the worst yet for the spread of COVID-19. With an increase in hospitalizations and higher levels of mortality in the community, Dr. Eric Law of Sothern Health Associates said this situation is the worst they’ve seen since the pandemic started in March.

Law explained that we are still seeing the remainder of the spread from holiday gatherings. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that most of the spread we’re seeing with our patients is happening within the home and in close family and friend get-togethers,” he said.

Over the last three weeks, Law explained administering Covid tests has been a challenge for his facility due to supplies issues. “Testing supplies through the county as a whole has been spotty, and there have been outages at clinics. Our clinic just received more supplies; however, we are testing on our patients at a limited degree,” he said.

Law stresses the two biggest things to prevent the spread of the virus is to wear a mask and limit contact with groups of people.

As the vaccine is starting to be distributed locally, Law believes this will be a huge help to combat the spread of this disease. While Southern Health Associates has not been able to get vaccines yet, the County Health Department and Troy Regional Medical Center have begun distribution of vaccines to front line health care workers and those who are 75 and older.

“The vaccine studies have been extremely positive,” Law said. “This looks to be one of the best vaccines that’s been produced both in terms of efficiency and adverse events.”

Law encourages those who are 75 and older to be aggressive about getting vaccinated, and when the opportunity comes, he encourages everyone to get it if they can. “In the foreseeable future, this vaccine will help us get back to normal life where we don’t have to worry about this depressing and disheartening illness.”

In the medical field as a whole, Law explained it has been emotionally draining and challenging since the start of this pandemic. “It’s been extremely difficult for those who work in the hospital setting and those in long term facilities who have had infections,” he said. “I’ve seen many nurses and physicians who have struggled with dealing with the loss of patients.”

Rick Smith, the Chief Executive Officer of Troy Regional Medical Center, has been in the health care field throughout his entire adult career and said there hasn’t been anything like this before.

“I don’t even know how to describe it, but it’s been very taxing on our team. No one is accustomed to seeing death that frequently,” he said.

Smith confirms that the last three weeks are proving to be the worst yet. “The positivity rate is higher than ever, the admission rate is higher than ever, and unfortunately the death rate is higher than ever,” he said.

The ICU at TRMC has been at capacity every day for the last three weeks, which makes transferring patients to different locations necessary. Smith has even had to transfer patients out of state because his colleagues around Alabama are at capacity as well.

TRMC is in the process of converting spaces to accommodate more patients to keep as many local as possible. Smith explained that TRMC has had issues with a shortage of testing supplies, but for the most part they have been well stocked.

A few days before Christmas, TRMC was able to start giving out vaccinations to front line health care workers and first responders.

Smith also believes the rise in Covid cases is due to the holiday gatherings. “Anytime there’s a holiday that’s historic for large family gatherings like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, we have the threat of spreading this virus,” he said. “I also think everyone is tired of dealing with Covid, but right now, even with the vaccinations, it’s very important to remain vigilant, continue wearing masks, washing hangs, and social distancing.”

Smith is hopeful that we will start to see a decline in Covid cases soon and that the vaccination will do what we need it to do.

Dr. Ben Smith, a physician with the Southeast Alabama Rural Health Associates, explained this pandemic is unlike anything he’s ever seen in his 25 years in the medical field.

“It’s been overwhelming. This will be a time that physicians and others in the health care field will always remember,” he said. “The one good thing about this virus is that it reminds you how each day is truly a blessing. It also makes you appreciate people more.”

Smith believes this second wave, or second rise in cases, is because people let down their guard over the holidays. “We’re seeing more cases, more death, and full hospitals,” he said. “For me, and I assume other clinicians as well, it’s been physically and mentally exhausting.”

Smith urges people to continue to wear a mask, wash hands, and avoid large gatherings, but also to get good sleep, exercise, and nutrition. “If we don’t take this serious, this virus, vaccine or no vaccine, will keep affecting lives and keep taking away loved ones. If you know you’ve been exposed and decide to go out, your risking the lives of others,” he said.

Smith is thankful that SARAH has been able to keep a good supply of testing materials and other necessary products. He expects to be able to administer the vaccine within the next week or two.

“I think by this spring, hopefully April, we should see a drop in numbers. I don’t think things are going away for the next six months with or without the vaccine, but we should start to see a downward trickle,” Smith said.