Levine: Surging hospitalizations “of significant concern” for PA hospitals

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — With Pennsylvania poised to pass 5,000 current COVID-19 hospitalizations (the figure stood at 4,982 Thursday morning), Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine — flanked virtually by a hospital chain executive — walked a line between reassuring Pennsylvanians that the system could meet current needs while warning there’s no assurance that will remain the case, depending on the actions of the public.

She made the comments during a virtual press briefing, in which she updated daily COVID-19 statistics. Among them: 4,982 hospitalizations, an increase of 238 in just one day.

“Of course, this number is of significant concern,” Dr. Levine said.

Among those patients, 1,048 patients were in intensive care units, up from 301 a month earlier (on Nov. 3).

“There are not an unlimited number of hospital beds,” Levine said. “But more importantly, there are not an unlimited number of staff — doctors, nurses, support staff, EMTs.”

“The people who make our healthcare system work are relying on you to do the right thing,” Levine added, pointing to the camera.

Many hospitals have said staffing, not physical space, is the most pressing challenge. Geisinger Lewiston Hospital, for example, began the week with just 86 of its 130 beds occupied (41 of the 86 by COVID-19-positive patients).

Dr. Ronald Strony, the co-chair of emergency medicine at Geisinger, which owns and operates hospitals in the Midstate and elsewhere, appeared alongside Levine — like her, describing a dedicated but tired workforce.

Dr. John Goldman, an infectious disease specialist and vice-president of medical affairs at UPMC Pinnacle Harrisburg, said that hospital is meeting medical demands. But “if people don’t do what they need to do, this is going to get worse — if people don’t mask, if they don’t social distance, if they have a large family gathering,” Goldman said.

Levine spoke again of an order she issued a week earlier mandating that hospitals pare elective procedures if the regions in which they operate meet two of three “triggers” related to bed capacity, staffing and COVID-19 spread. Two Pennsylvania regions, she said, have met the staffing trigger, noted that “elective” does not mean unimportant — life-saving cancer surgery, she said, can be considered elective.

Goldman, of UPMC Pinnacle, agreed.

“I don’t think anybody wakes up in the morning and decides, ‘Ooh, I would like to really have a surgery today,” he said. “There are very few surgeries that are truly elective.

“What we know from the past,” Goldman continued, “is that when people start delaying surgeries, when they start delaying procedures, it harms their health.”

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