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Behind the scenes: Omicron surge strains area ERs

Health

Behind the scenes: Omicron surge strains area ERs

Health Dedicated Tidelands Health ER teams have been working tirelessly to support the health system's patients and community amid the ongoing COVID-19 Omicron surge.

The dedicated care teams in the Tidelands Health ERs have been working tirelessly to support the health system's patients and community amid the ongoing COVID-19 Omicron surge.

In her 37 years working in hospital emergency departments, nurse Kate Henington has never experienced anything close to this.
Patients have filled every room in the emergency department at Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital in Murrells Inlet, with additional patients in rolling hospital beds lining the hallways to receive care. Another group of patients bound for the intensive care unit are staying in the ER until rooms in the also-overburdened ICU become available.
Then there are even more patients in the waiting room. And still more arriving with little warning via ambulance. For short periods, there simply hasn’t been any more room for another patient.
“We are using every nook and cranny we can find for patients,” said Wendi Kobylarz, director of the emergency departments at Tidelands Health.

Omicron surge

Nurses and other care team members – many working extra shifts to handle this surge – scurry throughout the crowded space to provide high-quality, compassionate care to patients. Their communication is constant in this fast-paced environment as the team works efficiently together, united by the same goal of providing the best patient care. The continuous beeps from patient monitoring equipment add to the buzz of activity.

The emergency departments at Tidelands Waccamaw and Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital are feeling the brunt of this Omicron-fueled surge especially hard. On top of an already busy time of year for the ERs, the latest COVID-19 surge has pushed them to the max for the past month. National Guard medics have come in to help.
“The COVID-19 surge has had a devastating impact on the department – devastating,” said Henington, head nurse in the emergency department at Tidelands Waccamaw.

It’s their calling

Emergency department personnel are trained to pivot quickly, juggle multiple patients and be ready to treat a variety of emergency conditions. Most thrive in that kind of environment; it’s their calling.
Like they always do, the dedicated emergency department teams are rising to serve through this surge, fueled by their commitment to care for patients and help them get better. They are taking on extra shifts. With heightened visitor restrictions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, team members are taking on the additional responsibility of keeping patients’ concerned family members updated via telephone.

“They are very resilient. They are very hard working. They are fearless. They are tireless. They are going full force into these rooms like the warriors that they are,” Henington said. “The fact they show up for work every day after the day they had yesterday – I thank them all. They are my heroes. They should be everyone’s heroes.
“We are working so hard for this community. And we are going to continue to come to work and do our very best to help people in this community.”

How we got here

There just doesn’t seem to be a break in the constant crowd of patients seeking emergency care for COVID-19 symptoms, not to mention the other common conditions you see in the emergency department during this usually busy time of year — sepsis, heart attacks, strokes, broken bones and other serious illness. Because there are so many patients flooding the ERs, wait times have stretched from minutes into hours.

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“We are getting ambulances in – several every hour. And we have patients walking in through the front doors,” Henington said.
Circumstances have stacked up with this latest surge to create the overwhelming situation.
The highly transmissible Omicron variant is bringing in patients and taking out team members, who pick up the virus in the community and must quarantine. And, in addition to caring for the seemingly never-ending stream of patients who truly need emergency care, throngs of people without symptoms have added to the burden by showing up in the ERs seeking a COVID-19 test. Tidelands Health continues to spread the word to seek screening tests through scdhec.gov and not clog the ERs if emergency care isn’t needed.

Pressure relief

To help relieve pressure on the ERs, Tidelands Health has opened respiratory clinics in Murrells Inlet and Georgetown where people experiencing non-emergency COVID-19 symptoms can go for testing and treatment. The clinics have been operating extended and weekend hours.
While those strategies have helped, the ERs are still feeling the pressure. Team members ask for understanding – they don’t like the lengthy wait times any more than patients And they urge everyone to get vaccinated and a booster shot when it’s time, wear masks indoors in public and stay home and away from others if you have COVID-like symptoms.
“Please be patient with us,” Kobylarz said.

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Despite the challenges, Henington emphasizes the team’s commitment to serve patients and the community. In addition to the nurses and physicians, other teams throughout the health system play crucial supporting roles to keep the busy ERs operating 24 hours, seven days a week, including environmental services, security and food services. All have been stepping up amid this surge.
And for the caregivers, they may be ending their shifts exhausted, but they know they are making a difference.
“There’s no place I’d rather be,” Henington said.

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