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COVID-19, hospital capacity discussed by hospital official

By Lucia Starbuck

Renown Health provided an update last week on its hospitals’ operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While we continue to experience higher rates of positivity in northern Nevada, we have not seen a commensurate rise in the number of hospitalizations that outstrip capacity at this point,” said Dr. Tony Slonim, Renown CEO.

The update addressed hospital bed capacity while cases of COVID-19 are rising in Nevada, how front-line workers are faring and the organization’s effort to support diversity in the community in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, following the murder of George Floyd.

Slonim said Renown Health has enough personal protective equipment, ventilators and COVID-19 testing capabilities. In early April, Renown Health repurposed its parking garage in its Mill Street Parking Structure into a temporary care site, which has the capacity to see about 1,400 patients. Renown Health has not had to use this care site, but it is still available if needed, Slonim said.

“We invested in that alternate care site as a way of assuring that our community was protected in the event, the volume or the surge as we call it, continued to grow,” he added. “We have those beds available, should we need them.”

The largest age demographic of positive COVID-19 cases in Nevada are people age 20 to 29, followed by 30 to 39. Older adults are more at risk of becoming severely ill and hospitalized for COVID-19, and 80 percent of COVID-19-related deaths in the country have been adults 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“So far, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and ventilator care is below where we might expect it to be, and that’s in part due to the fact that we’re seeing a younger group of people being affected. The median age is lower than it was before,” Slonim said.

The long-term effects of COVID-19 are unknown at this time, but Slonim touched on some of the health impacts the hospitals have seen.

“There are groups of people who still have, we’ll call them complications of COVID-19, long-standing effects after recovery of COVID-19, that if you listen to them, it’s really a struggle on the recovery front, they’re short of breath,” he said. “We’re talking about people who were marathon runners, but still can’t seem to get back into the game without being short of breath or walking up the stairs. We see people who were bodybuilders, who lost their body mass, their muscle mass, and now need to eat right, recover, gain the weight back in an appropriate manner and gain their strength. Part of that is related to the effects of critical illness. Part of that may be related to the effects of the virus, and we just don’t know yet.”

Slonim also recognized that the pandemic has had a dramatic economic impact but said Renown Health has not laid off any staff members amid the pandemic. He added that 750 staff members have been working from home, and Renown Health has made those permanent remote positions.

Is school safe?

School districts are still discussing reopening plans for fall of 2020, where students and staff can expect drastically different school operations. During the press conference, Slonim was asked if he thinks it’s safe to return to school. 

“There’s no right or wrong answer, but what I do know is given the fact that the virus infection rates are so vibrant here right now in our community, if we were to open today, I think it would be a really bad thing,” he said. “No one can tell what those rates are going to look like in the next few weeks or by the time school is scheduled to open. What we probably can say for sure is it will look different than it’s looked in the past, whether it’s shift based work with in-person, whether it’s smaller class sizes, whether it’s some hybrid of remote work and in-person education.”

Slonim pointed out that some children work more efficiently and benefit from an in-person environment.

“There are children who are vulnerable by not having the social stimulation, and the connectivity and other things,” Slonim said. “We have to remember that not all kids in our community are from the same socioeconomic status and are vulnerable for a variety of reasons. While it’s easy to say: remote work, or remote learning at home, it may not be so easy for all kids in our community to get the same kind of remote learning opportunities and experiences. So, not an easy challenge, and has to be weighed within the context of where we are as a community, with the virus emerging in a more pathogenic way than ever before.”

People urged to visit emergency room for non-COVID-19 emergencies

During the early stages of the pandemic, hospital officials were reporting that there was a decrease in emergency room visits for non-COVID-19 emergencies, and the problem is still persisting, according to Slonim.

“People are still afraid, and especially as numbers of the virus keep coming back, we see people that are still hesitant, and they’re delaying care,” he said. “Our hospitals, our doctors are available to care for you if you get sick, if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, if you get in a car wreck, if you have an accident, do not hesitate. If you think you’ve got appendicitis, do not delay. The implications of delaying can be far worse than anything that might happen at the hospital.”

Slonim said the decrease in visits to the hospital for non-COVID-19-related matters has the potential to have an impact on schools reopening in the fall.

Renown’s response to Black Lives Matter

In response to the killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, by a white police officer, which sparked Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country and in northern Nevada, Slonim said Renown Health has also invested a sum of $150,000 to not-for-profit advocacy organizations.

“To become part of the solution that increases the presence of and participation of women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ members of the community, people with disabilities, or from impoverished circumstances like a low socioeconomic status and underrepresented groups,” Slonim said.

The funding went to 55 different nonprofit organizations in the community.

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