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Task force to help hospitals overrun with COVID

CHARLESTON — As hospitals continue to fill with patients suffering from severe COVID-19 symptoms, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday a new task force aimed specifically at helping hospitals avoid rationing health care.

Justice met with state health and COVID-19 response officials Monday morning for a breakfast at the Governor’s Mansion. Speaking Monday afternoon during his COVID-19 briefing, Justice said the result of that morning meeting was a new task force.

The task force is called Saving Our Care, a play on the Saving Our Wisdom program that focused on vaccinating the state’s older population and those in long-term care facilities. Saving Our Care will focus on keeping hospitals and nursing homes from being overtopped with COVID-19 patients and limiting access to healthcare for other ailments.

“Saving Our Care is our hospitals and nursing homes,” Justice said. “They are absolutely getting ready or at the peak of this, being tasked to the limit and in many situations maybe with nowhere to turn…we are going to step in, and we’re going to do that exactly right now.”

Justice said Saving Our Care will review and provide financial reimbursements to hospitals and nursing homes for any lost revenues caused by redirecting resources to care of COVID-19 patients. The task force also will look at bringing in contract staffing to help fill needs at hospitals and nursing homes.

“The No. 1 problem I gather from everyone is staffing,” Justice said. “From the standpoint of bringing contract staffing or whatever it may be that you need and that you have to do. If you elect to move same-day surgeries and take those personnel working that and put them into the hospitals to take care of folks and everything, we will review and we will absolutely reimburse those dollars to you, those lost revenues.”

Funding for Saving our Care will come from the remaining federal C.A.R.E.S. Act funds and American Rescue Plan funds. According to the State Auditor’s Office, $166 million remains of C.A.R.E.S. Act funds. West Virginia has already received the first half of $1.35 billion from the American Rescue Plan.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 82.36 percent of the state’s inpatient hospital beds, or 4,920 beds, are occupied, with 963 beds being taken up by COVID-19 patients. When it comes to intensive care unit bed usage, 86.38 percent of the state’s ICU beds, or 590 beds, are occupied with 291 ICU beds being used by COVID-19 patients, leaving just 93 ICU beds left in the state as of Monday.

According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, 82.9 percent of people hospitalized in West Virginia were unvaccinated, with 87.3 percent of ICU patients not being vaccinated. Justice said hospitals are not at the point to ration care, but the task force will help hospitals be prepared.

“The bottom line to the whole thing is our hospitals are on the verge of being overrun,” Justice said. “We could awaken to a situation where we are basically rationing care. We’re not there right at this moment, but we should all realize we’re at a point of time when we’re reaching a crisis. We’re at a crisis.”

In related news, the state is seeing a decrease in active COVID-19 cases since last Thursday, when active cases peaked at 29,744. According to DHHR, the state saw active cases drop to 21,490 as of Sunday – a 27.8-percent decrease in active cases. State officials believe West Virginia might be at the peak of active cases, but it will still take between two and six weeks for hospitalizations and deaths to peak. The state reported 54 new COVID-19 deaths since Friday’s briefing.

“What people need to understand, is that our historic data shows us not just in West Virginia but nationally that after you hit that peak of cases you still have somewhere between two and four and maybe even six weeks of hospitalization decreases and death increases, so we’ve got to be cognizant of that fact,” said James Hoyer, leader of the state joint interagency vaccine task force.

To also blunt the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, state officials announced Friday the expansion of monoclonal antibody treatment clinics in more than 30 counties, with more counties coming online this week. If used quickly once someone becomes infected with COVID-19, monoclonal antibody treatments can help COVID-positive patients avoid severe symptoms and hospitalization.

“Our distribution process for the monoclonal antibodies, more have signed up to be a part of that,” Hoyer said. “The hospitals are very appreciative and are working across-level to get the antibodies we can get in the state, which is about 1,140 doses. We have not exceeded that level in the past, but we believe this week with this greater distribution process that we will start to exceed that and work with the federal government to reach out and get more.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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