ORLANDO, Fla. – AdventHealth doctors are pleading with the Central Florida community to help its overworked health care heroes by getting vaccinated and wearing masks.
Linnette Johnson, AdventHealth’s chief nursing officer says the health care system has enough supplies and hospital bed capacity to get through the most recent surge of COVID-19 cases but its staff is exhausted.
“We have enough personal protective equipment and supplies, we have sufficient ventilators for now and we are purchasing more, just in case. But we can’t simply order more of our most valuable asset and that’s our people,” Johnson said.
AdventHealth now has about 1,000 COVID-19 patients across its hospitals in Central Florida and as a result, elevated its status to “black” on Thursday to free up more resources to help with the surge.
“Black” status means hospital officials will defer non-emergency surgeries at hospitals throughout the Central Florida division. Health officials said outpatient surgery sites will only conduct time-sensitive and urgent procedures. The precaution will help free up staff from other teams to help exhausted doctors and nurses.
“I’m here to tell you today, our nurses and physicians are exhausted,” Johnson said. “The physical, mental and emotional strains of this pandemic are taking a toll. Yes, they are health care heroes, but our heroes are human. We are asking you, our community, to help us, our health system, not just AdventHealth, but all health systems need this pandemic to come to an end.”
AdventHealth Central Florida Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Neil Finkler said over 90% of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. In recent weeks, the patients have also become younger. Most are now in their 50s and a third of COVID-19 patients are below 50 years old, according to Finkler. The hospitals continue to accept more unvaccinated pregnant women with serious cases of the virus.
“None of these patients thought they would get the virus, but the delta variant has proven to be so highly contagious, that even the young and the healthy, including pregnant patients are now starting to fill up our hospitals,” Finkler said.
For those who are fully vaccinated and now hospitalized with the virus, known as breakthrough cases, Finkler said most have pre-existing conditions including cancer patients undergoing therapy or an autoimmune disease.
Johnson said AdventHealth is not at max capacity and, with the “black” status, is able to use surgery suites and other spaces as needed for patients. The hospital chain has also ordered more ventilators but has enough equipment currently. However, it’s unclear when this current COVID-19 surge will be over. Finkler said the current increase is unlike previous surges.
AdventHealth Centra Care locations have been a good indicator for what’s to come, according to Finkler. Centra Cares are reporting a 26% positivity rate for COVID-19 tests at the clinics around Central Florida.
“Right now, we don’t know when this peak will actually hit its max,” Finkler said. “It’s interesting that the steep rise in the number of admissions makes this surge different than anything we’ve seen before, whether or not we’ll see as steep a fall on the other side of the peak remains to be seen.”
If the community can do anything to help its health care heroes, according to doctors, it’s to get vaccinated
“Vaccinations are the key to us getting on the other side of this, again, the scientific evidence is overwhelming,” Finkler said. “These are safe and effective vaccines, They’re certainly safe and effective with regards to both reducing both the risk of becoming infected, as well as the risk of spreading the infection to others.”
Both medical professionals advised wearing masks can also help slow the spread, asking the community to put politics aside. The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance encourages everyone, even those who are vaccinated, to mask up indoors.
“It’s very obvious to me that people should be wearing masks right now, whether you’re vaccinated or not in accordance with the CDC guidelines,” Finkler said. “The wearing the mask won’t hurt, but it may help stop the spread of virus, until we get more people vaccinated, it makes sense to go back to wearing masks in situations where we might be around unvaccinated people.”
And because students under 12 years old are not yet eligible for any of the vaccines, Finkler agrees with the CDC’s recommendation for masks in schools. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday he would sign an executive order allowing parents to be the ones who decide if their children wear masks.
“We continue to work with our education partners in the community, and offer guidance, but again, this is all based on scientific evidence, and we’re not the politicians that create the policies,” Finkler said.