Dr. Russ Ford, a veteran physician at Sentara RMH Medical Center, was succinct.

He wants the community to get vaccinated.

“All of our business is to keep people healthy or, if they’re sick, to get them better,” he said. “If we have a tool at our disposal to keep them from getting sick in the first place, let’s do it. We really need this.”

According to Sentara RMH officials and a new dashboard on the hospital’s website, there are currently 61 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, which accounts for 32% of the hospital’s total inpatient population. Ford said over 90% of those COVID patients are not vaccinated, and the vaccinated patients the hospital is admitting have “serious underlying medical conditions” such as emphysema.

“Get vaccinated,” Ford said. “Because the vaccinated folks are not getting sick enough to come to the hospital.”

According to the dashboard, which went live Monday morning, Sentara RMH has the highest number of hospitalized COVID patients in the healthcare group’s Virginia sites. That’s why Ford, Sentara RMH Medical Center President Doug Moyer and Cassey Cook, a Briery Branch resident and clinical nurse manager for fourth floor east — one of the COVID units — spoke outside the hospital Monday, pleading with the community to get one of three available vaccinations.

“This virus is very real,” Cook said. “This is a public health and safety issue that is now at the forefront of our community. We are seeing the sickest and the youngest patients we have ever seen.”

According to Ford, during the early portion of the pandemic the hospital was mainly seeing older people hospitalized due to the virus.

“Last winter, generally, we saw 65-, 75-, 85-year-old folks, very ill with the virus,” he said. “Now we’re seeing some of those same age groups, but we’re [also] seeing 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. We’re seeing pregnant ladies coming in sick with the virus. We’re seeing college kids come in with the virus, and young, working healthy adults.”

Locally, vaccination numbers have lagged.

According to the Virginia Department of Health’s daily dashboard, Rockingham County is reporting 46% of its population as fully vaccinated with Harrisonburg at 45.2%. Meanwhile, neighboring counties Albemarle and Greene are all reporting over 50% fully vaccinated and Augusta County reporting 49.1% fully vaccinated. Overall, VDH reports that 58.8% of Virginia’s population is fully vaccinated.

When the data is focused just on residents 18 years of age and older, 70.3% of Virginians have been fully vaccinated, with 51.1% of Harrisonburg and 55.5% of Rockingham adults fully vaccinated, according to VDH.

Right now, however, that’s little salve to Cook as local COVID-19 numbers ebb and flow.

“We leave our families day and night to show up and care for others,” she said. “Burnout and job fatigue are consuming us. Health-care workers are mentally, physically and emotionally drained. We are spending hours a shift working with patients to ensure they can breathe comfortably all the while trying to provide that empathy and care to your loved ones who haven’t seen their families in weeks.”

According to Ford, during the past two to three weeks, Sentara RMH has seen COVID numbers similar to last winter’s spike. On Monday, the VDH reported 21 new cases in Harrisonburg, down from the 94 new cases reported on Sept. 2, but up from the 18 reported Sunday. After 42 new cases were reported Sunday in Rockingham County, the number dropped to 24 new cases on Monday, well below the 101 cases reported on Sept. 2.

For the second time during the pandemic, on Sept. 4, 13 county residents were reported newly hospitalized on a single day. The other single day over a dozen county residents were reported newly hospitalized was March 21.

On Saturday, 10 city residents were reported newly hospitalized with the virus while three city residents were reported hospitalized Sunday and Monday.

But there’s still cause for concern, according to hospital officials.

“We will expand our capacity to treat any patients in need,” Moyer said. “But the trade-off is that we’re asking more from the same people who’ve been at the frontlines throughout this entire pandemic. We recognize the fear of health-care worker burnout; there is a limit to how much we can keep asking of the same group of health-care heroes to take on.”

On Monday, the daily seven-day average of new cases in the county was 40 with the city seven-day average at 28.

According to Ford, Sentara RMH has a contingency plan in the books to expand the ICU if needed.

“We have plenty of ICU beds,” he said. “We have plenty of ventilators. Generally, it’s been running 5 to 10% of people getting sick enough to come into a hospital end up on a vent, that’s sort of like a ballpark [figure].”

But, Ford said, the hospital is currently at 85% capacity of its available beds. And, Moyer said, there are longer waits for inpatient rooms and for people to be seen in the emergency department. The hospital has also paused or cut back on all elective procedures “to take care of inpatient demands,” Ford said. “As soon as this sick population goes down in numbers, we’ll be able to resume the usual outpatient surgeries and procedures.”

“Our employees are fatigued,” Moyer said. “It has been an all-hands-on-deck effort now for over a year and a half. Until we get everyone in our community vaccinated, we won’t get a break.”

Cook, dressed in her smock and wearing a mask, reiterated the plea as Sentara RMH Medical Center continued to deal with the strain on its employees.

“We are still trying to provide that passion that we once had,” she said. “But we’re now pulling from an empty well.”

Contact Jim Sacco at 574-6281 or jsacco@dnronline.com | Follow Jim on Twitter at @Jim__Sacco

(15) comments

bootsielawson

In demokkkrat new york city, a large percentage of blacks aren't vaxxed. I was unaware they were Trump voters. cdc and other medical staff aren't vaxxed. and I pay attention to them. I also remember joie and knees harris saying NO WAY they were getting the vaxx and how do I know they even got it. I also see thousands of the unvaxxed being delivered to a towns near YOU. Not a word they are coming across a river that should interest you canoe if you have ever been in one?

Programmer

Just wait about three more weeks, the hospital will have mostly vaccinated folks with covid according to data from Israel.

DeadIceMan

Can someone go and ask the hospital why their staff is leaving? Are they compensating the staff to keep them there? Why do the Covid Nurses or any Nurse have to us PAL time if they catch Covid and why it isn't covered. I mean these people are on the front lines and the hospital keeps wanting more and more but is not giving anything back to the people in the trenches. DNR ask the hard questions for once.

billnonymous

They are not compensating their staff fairly, it's the opposite, they continue to slash pay and tell employees if they don't like it, they can leave. A few months ago when Sentara corporate was reducing RMH physician pay by 25% while also making tens of millions of dollars in profit and lavishing bonuses and 'non salary income' upon themselves, I thought DNR was going to expose just how corrupt Sentara is, but the articles ceased and DNR moved on. Sentara started bleeding RMH dry the second they took over and from what I hear, they're looking for a buyer, any buyer, because they can't make (steal) any more money from it.

Comment deleted.
Canoe12

Yeah, let's follow the lead of the poorest countries in the world and give people a bunch of unproven treatments and send them home to die. That'll show those libs who think taking the Trump vaccine is all you have to do to reduce your chances of getting very sick or dying from this disease! And hospitalization rates WILL plummet!

By the way, do you have any ties to the body bag industry?

newshound

Do your medical jobs and stop whining. My sources said RMH is far from full.

Canoe12

Apparently you can't read very well. As the CEO said, the hospital is not full because they've had to cancel all non-emergency surgeries and shift staff to take care of the unvaccinated Covid patients. So the MAGA-way is making people suffer needlessly all the way around just because you won't take Trump's vaccine. Good job.

DeftCurmudgeon

Apparently you can't read -at all- it's not a "vaccine", it's experimental gene therapy.

newshound

MAGA and Trump … terms that roll off the tongues of triggered liberal screwballs at will! Uncontrolled obsession…explains the virus hysteria too!

billnonymous

Those that are in the hospital with Covid have more problems than Covid. They are obese with very poor diets, or are already in poor health with compromised immunity systems. They're going to wind up in the hospital whether they are vaccinated or not. Some of those people in the hospital with Covid were infected by a vaccainted person, how do you feel about that FACT, Canure12?? A vaccinated person infecting another with Covid, shouldn't that person be arrested for assault and battery as you suggested?

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