Wake County doctors address surge of COVID-19 patients, impact on care, ICU availability

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Some of Wake County’s top doctors discussed the surge of COVID-19 patients and how it’s impacting care for non-COVID patients during a news conference Wednesday morning.

Doctors at WakeMed, Duke and UNC joined Wake County’s chief medical officer at a 10 a.m. meeting where they talked about the strain COVID-19 is putting on local hospitals.

Participants included:

  • Dr. Timothy Plonk, Emergency Department Medical Director, Duke Raleigh Hospital
  • Dr. Linda Butler, Chief Medical Officer, UNC REX Healthcare
  • Dr. Seth Brody, Chief Physician Executive, WakeMed Health & Hospitals
  • Dr. Micah Krempasky, Chief Medical Officer, WakeMed Behavioral Health
  • Dr. Jose Cabañas, Chief Medical Officer, Wake County

The doctors said that COVID-19, specifically the delta variant, is putting a strain on hospitals across the community and that it goes beyond Wake County.

Right now, ICUs across North Carolina are packed at more than 87 percent – that’s the highest the state’s numbers have been since the start of the pandemic last year.

Health officials say the ICU numbers in the state haven’t been below 80 percent full in three weeks.

Doctors said on Wednesday that capacity issues are not just COVID-19 patients because there is also a surge in other serious illnesses exacerbated by patients not getting care earlier during the pandemic.

The resounding concerns among the doctors who spoke this morning are long wait times in the ER, staffing, and bed availability.

Leaders at UNC’s Johnston Health say that out of 150 beds across two hospitals in Johnston County, half of those are COVID cases.

“We’re having to take care of significantly sicker patients in our hospital without the ability to transfer them to university settings because the universities are all full,” said Dr. Rodney McCaskill, Johnston Health’s chief medical officer.

It’s not just smaller hospitals in central North Carolina that are seeing the biggest issues with capacity and availability to provide care due to the COVID-19 surge.

UNC REX is reporting around 520 patients right now. The hospital only has 439 beds.

Dr. Tim Plonk, an emergency doctor at Duke Raleigh, said wait times for a bed are higher than they’ve ever been.

“What this all means for us in the emergency department as this new wave hits is that we’re busier, our patients are a little sicker. Often very sick. Our staff is working harder and our lobbies are full,” said Plonk.

Doctors said there are some things that people can do to help the current situation including getting vaccinated and also making sure to reach out to primary care doctors, urgent care centers, and pharmacy clinics for non-emergency medical treatment before coming to the ER.

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