BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Iowa is closing in on 200,000 positive cases of coronavirus and is now over 2,100 deaths.
Statistically speaking, that means currently 1.1% of the people who get COVID in Iowa die from it.
Fort Madison Community Hospital CEO Shelby Burchett said that’s an incredibly high price to pay for not wearing a mask and keeping socially distant.
“You can look at this in the aggregate if you want to, but 1% to all of us will seem like 100% if it’s a loved one,” Burchett said Thursday morning in an interview with Pen City Current.
Burchett said hospital resources locally and throughout the state are being stretched thin in all areas from equipment, to staffing, to facilities and even transport abilities, due to the record setting numbers throughout the state.
Great River Health System CEO Matt Wentzel and Medical Director Dr. Michael McCoy will be giving a system update on Friday sponsored by the Greater Burlington Partnership. FMCH now operates as part of Great River Health.
Burchett said social distancing and wearing face coverings are the two biggest arrows in the quiver, but personal accountability will be the biggest driver in slowing the spread. She pleaded with everyone to follow local health department and Centers for Disease Control recommendations because the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate.
“It matters. And the scarier thing is you just don’t know how it will affect each person. Someone who is seemingly healthy could succumb to this,” she said. “It takes on its own form for every person it affects. It’s very scary.”
The Lee County Board of Health put out a directive earlier this week saying it expects everyone over the age of 2 to be 100% compliant in wearing masks, with the exception of medical conditions that make it difficult.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds got as close as she ever has to instituting a mask mandate on Monday requiring masks indoors where social distancing isn’t possible and at all high school, college and professional sporting events.
She also limited indoor groups to 15 and outdoor groups to 30 and pleaded with Iowans to stick with immediately family over the holidays.
Burchett said she agreed with tougher stance and asked again for residents to give value to those recommendations.
“Those requests may seem extreme coming up on the holidays, but it is really critical to focus on enjoying our immediate families and using other methods like Zoom, Facetime, and even the telephone for extended family,” she said.
“Whoever you’re around, you’re also around everyone they have been around. It’s not what we can do, but what we have to do to get this under control.”
FMCH has seen COVID admissions increase as most hospitals have in recent weeks. She said the hospital had a 1 to 2 admissions day-to-day during the summer spike, but now there are 9 to 10 patients daily and they are sicker than the patients in the summer.
With the increased admissions, staff is also at greater risk and Burchett said staff has to quarantine two weeks like everyone else. That presents a challenge.
“We’re struggling with staffing at times and then we have to stretch the staff we have, which results in fatigue and burnout. Then we have extended use of ventilators, other respiratory support, and ICU beds. And with other hospitals in the state seeing the same phenomenon, transfer capability decreased,” Burchett said.
“All this compounds the problem when you factor in other patient types affected with other critical illnesses like heart attacks or heart failure who then need ICU beds and face the same constraints.
“Our doctors and staff are doing an amazing job, but it’s taken it’s toll and people are getting tired. Our staffing is a day-to-day thing, even an hour-to-hour thing. It’s really wearing on us.”
Burchett put out a plea to those who think wearing a mask is an infringement on personal liberties or rights.
“I would plead with them to think beyond themselves and to think about their family, loved ones, and friends – and healthcare workers,” she said.
“I really feel like it has to do with the realization that everyone has to take personal accountability. Not everybody has been abiding by guidelines and recommendations. People can still interact, but with the main determinant of practicing social distancing and wearing a mask. That’s the main thing – those two elements we know are directly related to the spread of this.”
Despite the heavy weight of the surging virus, Burchett said the hospital is staffed and ready to take care of patients.
“We’re committed to serving the patients in our communities whether its because they are not feeling well or they have questions,” she said.
“We are here – and we will be here.”