DCH Health System urges vaccinations, seeks nursing help as COVID-19 inpatient cases rise
Local health officials are pleading to anyone who has not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine to get one.
This call for action in Tuscaloosa, where the fully vaccinated rate is 31%, is being made as the number of coronavirus inpatients at DCH Health System facilities continues to rise amid a nationwide nursing shortage.
“DCH needs your help today,” DCH Chief Operating Office Paul Betz said Thursday.
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After weeks of seeing fewer than 10 inpatients with COVID-19 at DCH Regional Medical Center and DCH Northport, as of Thursday morning that total had climbed to 65, Betz said.
And of these inpatients, more than 90% have not been vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19.
“COVID-19 vaccines are keeping people from getting critically ill. They are working,” Betz said. “We are all falling short in the fight against COVID-19, yet the strain on our healthcare system and community is largely avoidable.”
To help manage and treat these newly arriving COVID-19-positive inpatients, DCH is asking for help from anyone who is a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse.
Whether it’s a few hours a week or a full-time position, Betz urged anyone who could help fill the hospital system’s nursing deficiencies to contact the DCH Health System at 205-333-4772.
Hourly rates for part-time nurses and incentive payments for anyone who comes aboard are being offered, Betz said.
Similar incentives are being offered to current DCH nurses who agree to take on extra duties, he said.
“The difficulty with COVID patients is that they require so much more attention,” Betz said, “so we need the extra help to do that.”
COVID-19 'trend is extremely concerning'
The increase of COVID-19 patients at DCH is in line with state and national trends.
In Alabama, more than 900 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized – the largest total since February – and too few Alabama residents are vaccinated, according to the latest update from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
“The slope of the increase is unprecedented,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said in a news release. “This upward trend is extremely concerning, especially with the delta variant being highly infectious and much more transmissible than earlier strains.
“Getting vaccinated is the best action you can take to protect yourself and those around you.”
At DCH, Betz said the inpatient increase was being seen most within those in the age range of 25 to 49.
While those 50 and older suffered and died in larger numbers when the pandemic first struck, those age ranges are now among the most vaccinated in the state.
According to the state health department, 53.1% of those age 50 to 64 have been vaccinated, just under 74% of those aged 65-74 are fully vaccinated and almost 75% of those aged 75 and older have received the vaccine.
But those in the 30-49 age range are less than 36% and, among the 18-29 crowd, that number falls to 24.8%, Betz said.
“When you couple the low vaccination rates that we have with the ongoing, nationwide nursing shortage that we are experiencing, it becomes quite concerning,” Betz said.
At the height of the pandemic, DCH had access to federal funds to hire travel nurses to help fill the voids.
That funding, however, has been exhausted, which has brought DCH to ask local nurses to help.
“With low vaccination rates, DCH is seeing the number of patients with COVID requiring hospitalization increasing daily,” Betz said. “We are quickly approaching a very difficult situation and need help from the community.”
To help combat this, DCH has reversed a decision to close its remote vaccination site and will keep it operating each Friday “for the foreseeable future,” Betz said.
To register for a vaccine appointment, go to dchsystem.com/covidvaccine.
Additional information on vaccine clinics across Alabama can be found at vaccines.gov or by calling 1-800-232-0233.
Betz is asking residents to encourage their unvaccinated friends and family to get vaccinated, and for those who still remain hesitant to take the vaccine, he urges them to do their own research and seek out verifiable facts. Doing so, he believes, will show that the vaccine is not dangerous and provides the best protection against the COVID-19 virus.
“Vaccines are the best course to reduce and defeat COVID, and the most effective way to make that happen is one-on-one conversations with family and friends,” Betz said. “Please reach out to those that you know who have not been vaccinated and talk to them and encourage them to do so.
“The reality and the facts associated with the vaccine is that it is safe. It’s accessible. It’s free. And it’s effective. So, when you couple all of those facts with the vaccination rate, you have to recognize the fact that this spike – this resurgence in the virus spread – is largely avoidable.”
Reach Jason Morton at firstname.lastname@example.org.