RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has requested federal assistance as hospitals across the state are seeing a record number of patients and dealing with strained capacity.
A news release said NCDHHS and NC Emergency Management are requesting federal support for the Charlotte region to help alleviate capacity constraints, mostly due to COVID-19. DHHS said the state is working on this request with Atrium Health, which is above 95 percent of capacity.
A document CBS 17 obtained from the state shows that North Carolina asked for 50 medical personnel.
“The entire Atrium Health system is currently closed to all outside transfers and causing a major delay for EMS turnaround times in the region. The state of NC does not have any additional staffing resources to provide to support Atrium Health. We have provided a list of individuals that are available to assist Atrium Health, but that list has been exhausted. We have not been able to get staff from any of our staffing contracts,” state officials write in the request.
State health officials say the request is limited to the Charlotte region. At this point they are not making any similar requests to FEMA for resources in other parts of the state but continuing to reach out to hospital administrators as the surge continues.
“One of the places that we know we first see strain is, for example, the emergency department, so working to support staffing there. So, we’re working to continue to assess what’s needed and then work with our federal partners to see if there’s additional support that can be brought in,” said Dr. Susan Kansagra, acting senior deputy division director for public health with NCDHHS.
Additionally, Gov. Roy Cooper said despite previous federal resources being made available, he felt it was needed to request more.
“We continue to monitor hospital capacity and staffing needs and have requested resources, including additional nurses from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency),” said Cooper. “We appreciate previous federal support and will keep working to make sure that people get the medical care they need.”
North Carolina set daily records of hospitalizations throughout January, reaching another high on Friday with 4,867 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Overall, hospitalizations increased 23-percent for the week ending on Monday, Jan. 17, as compared to the week prior, according to DHHS.
Health officials noted because hospitalizations lag behind increases in cases, this number may increase further.
Meka Douthit, president of the North Carolina Nurses Association, said, “It’s a really stressful time in the healthcare environment just for the sheer numbers.”
She’s director of nursing at Cone Health in Greensboro and said many of her colleagues are working longer hours and being shifted to different roles to account for staffing shortages.
“Some hope to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When will that be?” she said. “We know the next month could be equally as daunting as what we have experienced.”
Gov. Cooper has previously issued executive orders waiving regulations and giving hospitals and health care providers additional capacity and flexibility to treat COVID-19 patients. But with the new omicron variant, the spikes are now too high.
Dr. Julie Swann, an expert on health systems at NC State, has been leading a team that’s been modeling the course of the omicron surge.
“The biggest constraint at hospitals right now really is personnel to care for patients, and it is critical,” she said. “Even the federal government has very few resources that they are really deploying carefully and making sure that hospitals are doing everything they can to manage these supply/demand constraints that they’re having.”
She anticipates hospitals to continue to be stressed for the “next couple of weeks at least.”
Dr. Kansagra said North Carolina likely has not hit the peak yet when it comes to cases but may get to that point in the next 10 days or so.
“There are some big cities and places that have started earlier like New York, for example, New York City. So, we’re about two weeks behind them,” she said.
NCDHHS is asking people to not visit hospital emergency rooms solely for a test and only go for real emergencies, COVID-19 related or not.
At this time, UNC Health’s Media Relations and Social Media Strategist Tom Hughes confirmed over the phone to CBS 17 that UNC Health, across all its hospitals, has approximately 800 COVID-19 positive patients, approximately 100 patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and have approximately 700 employees out system-wide.
WakeMed is also currently caring for 221 confirmed COVID-19 patients hospitalized across its hospitals, with 31 in the ICU and 16 on ventilators, Senior Specialist, Marketing and Communications coordinator Kristin Kelly said in an email to CBS 17.
Across Duke Health’s three hospitals, they’re treating 330 patients with COVID-19. Among them, 63 are in the ICU. But, it is not requesting federal help at this time.
Dr. Kansagra said statewide about 70 percent of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Additionally, she said more than 80 percent of people in the ICU with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.