Area hospitals urge everyone to get vaccinated

A group made up of hospitals and health care networks in East Tennessee on Wednesday issued an open letter urging everyone who is eligible to receive one of the available COVID-19 vaccines to do so as case numbers continue to rise and hospitalizations not only reach but surpass winter peak levels. Officials also encouraged people to wear face masks and maintain physical distances when possible. 

Calling the past 18 months “difficult for everyone in many ways,” the letter states that the COVID-19 infections over the past [few] months have been exceptionally challenging.”

The joint statement was issued by Covenant Health (which includes Methodist Medical Center), Tennova Health (which includes LaFollette Medical Center), the Sweetwater Hospital Association, Blount Memorial Hospital, UT Medical Center, and East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.   In part, it reads:  “We have seen a sharp rise in delta variant-related infections, and community hospitalizations have exceeded the COVID-related census we witnessed in January 2021.”

The statement acknowledged that people are eager to move on from the coronavirus pandemic, and it said vaccinations will help.

“We continue to believe that vaccination is the fastest and most effective way out of the pandemic,” the statement said. “With this belief, our hospital organizations are joining together to urge everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Across our health systems, more than 80 percent of people who are hospitalized due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Many have avoided getting vaccinated because of myths or misinformation about vaccine safety. However, vaccine testing, clinical trials, and worldwide results show that the vaccine is safe and effective. It greatly reduces the likelihood of contracting or spreading the virus, being hospitalized, or dying as a result of COVID-19. It also significantly lowers our communities’ risk of experiencing another viral surge. If you are hesitant about receiving the vaccine, please discuss your concerns with your health care provider so you can make an educated decision based on factual information.”

In addition to the significant increases in COVID cases, health care systems are also facing a shortage of health care workers, not only in the United States.

Staffing levels are at lower levels now than they were before the pandemic began, and several of the health systems have enlisted the help of the Tennessee National Guard to help alleviate staffing issues, including UT Medical Center, which added 10 Guard members to their temporary rolls just this week.

The statement said patients in hospital emergency rooms are experiencing longer wait times because of higher numbers of emergency cases and more people seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment.

“A significant amount of our hospitals’ current bed capacity is being used by COVID-19 patients. We all need to do our part to prevent the escalating spread of the virus to make sure local hospitals are here when you need us, regardless of the type of care you need. We know that anxieties and emotions can be high during hospital visits. We appreciate your patience and ask that you treat our health care heroes with the kindness and respect they deserve.”

If you are experiencing mild symptoms such as a low-grade fever, cough, or sore throat, or you need COVID-19 testing, the hospitals and health care networks encourage you to instead call your own primary care physician or health care provider or to go to an urgent care facility rather than going to an emergency room.

“However, if you have a serious injury or a life-threatening illness or condition, don’t hesitate to seek emergency treatment,” the statement said.

The letter came the same day that health officials reported that Tennessee hospitalizations had reached their highest numbers since the beginning of the pandemic.  As of Wednesday, 3,338 people were in the hospital with COVID-19.

Anderson County saw 131 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Wednesday, according to state Health Department data you can find at www.covid19.tn.gov, with 771 cases described as active. 

That website also provides a data dashboard for vaccinations in Tennessee, as well as ways to find a vaccine provider near you, and even schedule a vaccine appointment.  The federally-managed www.vaccinefinder.org also allows users to find providers and schedule appointments.

The full letter can be read below.

The past 18 months have been difficult for everyone in many ways, and the surge in COVID-19 infections over the past months has been exceptionally challenging. We have seen a sharp rise in delta variant-related infections, and community hospitalizations have exceeded the COVID-related census we witnessed in January 2021. We are all anxious to get past the coronavirus pandemic.

We continue to believe that vaccination is the fastest and most effective way out of the pandemic. With this belief, our hospital organizations are joining together to urge everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Across our health systems, more than 80% of people who are hospitalized due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Many have avoided getting vaccinated because of myths or misinformation about vaccine safety. However, vaccine testing, clinical trials and worldwide results show that the vaccine is safe and effective. It greatly reduces the likelihood of contracting or spreading the virus, being hospitalized, or dying as a result of COVID-19. It also significantly lowers our communities’ risk of experiencing another viral surge. If you are hesitant about receiving the vaccine, please discuss your concerns with your health care provider so you can make an educated decision based on factual information.

Not only are we once again facing significant increases in the number of COVID-19 cases, we are also facing a shortage of health care workers in the U.S., and Tennessee is no exception. Staffing is lower now than before the pandemic began, and several of our health systems have enlisted the help of the Tennessee National Guard to help alleviate this staffing crisis. Even with this assistance, as more people come to our hospitals, we still have fewer health care professionals to provide care.

Unfortunately, we acknowledge that patients in our ERs are experiencing longer wait times because of higher numbers of emergency cases and more people seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment. Our dedicated physicians and hospital staffs are working hard to care for COVID-19 patients as well as those who are experiencing heart attack, stroke, and other life-threatening illnesses and conditions. A significant amount of our hospitals’ current bed capacity is being used by COVID-19 patients. We all need to do our part to prevent the escalating spread of the virus to make sure local hospitals are here when you need us, regardless of the type of care you need. We know that anxieties and emotions can be high during hospital visits. We appreciate your patience and ask that you treat our health care heroes with the kindness and respect they deserve.

If you are experiencing mild symptoms such as a low-grade fever, cough or sore throat, or you need COVID-19 testing, we encourage you to call your health care provider or go to an urgent care facility rather than coming to the ER. However, if you have a serious injury or a life-threatening illness or condition, don’t hesitate to seek emergency treatment. Our collective commitment is to be there when you need us most. Be assured that our teams are working tirelessly and selflessly to provide you with the care that you need.

We are doing everything we can to manage the current increase in COVID ER visits and hospitalizations while also caring for the ongoing, non-COVID-19-related health care needs of our communities. To make an immediate impact on slowing the spread of the virus and to reduce the burden on our health systems, we encourage mask wearing and social distancing when in public. Again, we strongly encourage everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Now is the time to come together as a community to protect ourselves and one another. Our entire region has experienced suffering and loss, but the spirit of East Tennesseans is as strong as ever. Thank you for embodying that strong spirit and for entrusting your care with our health care systems.

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:30 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, and cats Oliver, Bow and Libby.

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