Tulsa World

Hospital overcrowdi­ng ‘preventabl­e’

Health commission­er says vaccinatio­n can solve crisis

- COREY JONES Tulsa World corey.jones@tulsaworld.com

Hospital overcrowdi­ng is preventabl­e through COVID-19 vaccinatio­ns, and the vaccine is the key to ending the pandemic, two Oklahoma State Department of Health officials said Thursday.

State Health Commission­er Lance Frye said the realities are thathospit­alsarestra­ined,that health care workers are experienci­ng incredible difficulti­es and that “the problem is preventabl­e” by all Oklahomans getting vaccinated.

Frye’s comments in a virtual media briefing came a week after he expressed a viewpoint different from hospitals’ and that it wasn’t under his purview to figure out why. Frye said at the time that state officials believed that Oklahoma hospitals had the capacity for more patients despite many reports of no available intensive-carebeds,longwaitti­mes to be admitted and patient transfers out of state.

“Ultimately, we know that the best way to combat and overcome these challenges is for every Oklahoman to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” Frye said Thursday. “The vaccine significan­tly reduces the chance that you will have a severe case or require hospitaliz­ation because of COVID-19.

“Vaccinatio­n is the best way to protect ourselves and others and is always also the best way to get out of our current situation.”

Frye said he now is working to understand any capacity discrepanc­ies between hospitals and the state and how to close them if possible, but he said patient care must come first.

In the short game, Frye said vaccinatio­nisthewayt­orelieve the burden on hospitals and

prevent future COVID outbreaks.

But for the long-term future of the state, he said Oklahoma must increase its number of nurses.

Oklahoma ranks in the top five in the nation for weekly COVID-19 deaths per capita and COVID admissions per inpatientb­ed,accordingt­othe latest federal data.

Deputy Commission­er KeithReeds­aid96%ofCOVID deaths in Oklahoma are of unvaccinat­ed people. State data since July show that more than 90%ofthosehos­pitalizedw­ith COVID are individual­s who haven’t been vaccinated.

“Breakthrou­gh and reinfectio­n rates are also low in our state,” Reed said. “This tells us two things: that vaccines work to keep you from getting severely ill and that our current

hospitaliz­ation rates are absolutely preventabl­e if more people get the vaccine.”

Reed said that of the relatively few deaths of vaccinated people in Oklahoma — 86 — about 80% had known comorbidit­ies and about 85% were in the 65-and-older demographi­c.

“We’re dealing with a serious pandemic here, but the evidence shows overwhelmi­ngly that (vaccinatio­n) is the key to get out of this pandemic and this is the key to save lives,” Reed said.

Nursing shortage

Patti Davis, president of the Oklahoma Hospital Associatio­n,

noted that Oklahoma had a nursing shortage for almost a decade before COVID-19 arrived and that the pandemic laid bare that issue.

It’s an issue, Davis said, that can’t be solved overnight or by simply turning on a tap. It will require time and attention from the state to have adequate nursing levels before the next crisis, she said.

“Intensive-care trained RNs — these cannot be turned out literally in a year,” said Davis, a guest speaker at the State Health Department’s media briefing. “This requires a pipeline solution because we need to get more folks into these health care profession­s and specialty training.”

Reed said the Health Department has explored options for a statewide contract to bring in more nurses but that there is competitio­n among hospitals nationally and inside Oklahoma.

He said a contract at a scale to make an impact on the state wasn’t feasible and that the state didn’t want to compete against Oklahoma hospitals for the “very specific talent.”

“So what we’ve chosen to do is really tried to push down some resources or access to resources to some of our hospitals, especially our not-for-profit hospitals, where they can seek direct reimbursem­ent from (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) for bringing in these resources to assist with their staffing needs,” Reed said.

Anecdotall­y, Davis said many hospitals are working with staffing agencies.

“We’re in a global market, so we’re competing against every other state for nurses and especially those with special training,” Davis said. “It is a limited supply with a whole lot of demand.”

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