Some Ohio hospitals declining patient transfers from other states amid capacity concerns

Published: Aug. 27, 2021 at 11:47 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Ohio hospital administrators worry the current surge in COVID-19 patients isn’t over and will leave people without a place to receive treatment for the virus or other illnesses.

From neighboring Kentucky and West Virginia to states further south including Texas, Ohio hospitals are declining requests from healthcare providers to transfer patients to the state, health officials said Friday.

“This is going to be a difficult road if cases and hospitalizations don’t peak soon,” said OSU Wexner Medical Center CCO Dr. Andrew Thomas.

He said OSU stopped taking transfers from out of state a little over a week ago unless they are an Ohio resident or established patient of one of its medical centers.

The requests to transfer patients from other states have also come to Cincinnati from Alabama. UC Health President and CEO Richard Lofgren said a request was made to transfer a patient from Alabama who needed emergency surgery on their aorta. Hospitals in their region were full. They couldn’t treat the person. UC Health declined the transfer because of its own capacity concerns.

There are similar stories across the country.

“Our hospitals are busier than ever,” said Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff Friday.

Hospitalizations are up tenfold since early July across Ohio. The Ohio Hospital Association reports 1-in-6 patients in ICU beds have COVID-19, compared to 1-in-49 two months ago.

Nearly all are unvaccinated.

Since the start of the year, 20,767 Ohioans have been hospitalized with COVID-19; 2.2% were fully vaccinated.

The state has reported 7,035 deaths since the start of the year; 1% were fully vaccinated.

“As we think ahead to the future, it’s important for us to take steps to avoid these repeated waves of COVID-19 that put lives at risk and crowd our hospital beds,” Vanderhoff said.

COVID-19 isn’t the only culprit behind the state’s strained healthcare system. It’s losing employees across the board.

Hospitalizations are back at similar levels to when the largest COVID-19 wave was surging in November and declining in January. Healthcare workers have worked overtime in stressful situations and have often found themselves being the only caretakers for their patients as visitations have been restricted.

“The toll that this has weighed on people over the last 18 months is uncalculable,” Thomas said. “I give the folks on the front lines at our facilities an immense amount of respect for what they’ve done and persevered through.”

Even before the surge in COVID-19 patients, several hospitals were seeing shortages in beds from other illnesses. Robert Wyllie, the Cleveland Clinic’s Chief of Medical Operations, said hospitals are seeing people come in who deferred their routine care during the pandemic.

“That, coupled with the bulge in COVID patients, is really stressing the system a little bit,” Wyllie said.

But the system isn’t as stressed in northern Ohio as it is in the central and southern regions of the states. In the Southeast Central and Southeast regions of the state, 1-in-5 and 1-in-6 hospital inpatients, respectively, have COVID-19. In Northwest and Northeast Ohio, the figures are 1-in-10 and 1-in-15, respectively.

The surge of the Delta Variant began in the Southern United States and has progressed north. That’s a trend that has reached Ohio and is still making its way up the state, the health officials suggested.

Wyllie stressed that COVID-19 has been unpredictable and it’s hard to say what the region’s hospital situation will look like in a week or even a month from now, but he’s optimistic.

“I think we’re OK,” Wyllie said. “We’re going to keep our fingers crossed that we’re not like some of the states in the south.

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