On March 26, 2020, around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira had a patient in his intensive care unit with COVID-related symptoms.
Eight months later, on Nov. 17, Chemung County Hospital reached its pandemic peak, when nearly 87 percent of 156 staffed beds and 90 percent of intensive care beds were occupied.
“Seeing these people suffer like this is so sad,” said Katie Harrell, an intensive care nurse at Arnot. “Unless you see it, it’s really hard to understand how awful it is.”
Arnot is located in the town of Elmira, but is one of several hospitals serving a mostly rural area of southern New York. It was heavily impacted again when the omicron variant took hold in late 2021.
On November 30, 35 people were admitted to the hospital, including 12 in the 20-bed intensive care unit. At the time, 182 people with COVID-19 had died in hospital, and the total rose to 239, a tragic toll affecting families and friends across the community, as well as hospital staff dedicated to their patients. .
Almost two years of battling a mystifying and unforgiving pandemic has led many healthcare workers to face their own mental health crisis.
“It eats away at you,” said Jordyn Cronin, a nurse in the COVID unit at Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital, “and eventually something is your tipping point.”
We reached out to several major healthcare systems in the southern part, and Arnot Health and Guthrie Healthcare agreed to let some of their healthcare professionals tell us about their experiences over the past two years.
EXCLUSIVE FOR SUBSCRIBERS: Click here to learn more about ttheir experiences of working in unprecedented conditions are documented in our special report, a story from their perspective, as nurses, respiratory therapists, intensive care supervisors and emergency department heads. They tell a story of industry burnout, trust crippled by public skepticism, and devastating losses informed by moments of resilience.
The history of hospitalizations is not unique to this part of the Southern Tier.
AT UHS Wilson Medical Center in Johnson City, 77 people were hospitalized with the virus on January 19, 2022 – including 13 in intensive care – and 213 people had died in hospital since March 2020.
Since the start of the pandemic, 224 residents of Chemung County have died of COVID-19 as of February 16, according to figures from the New York State Department of Health.
That total is 499 in Broome County, 81 in Tioga County, New York, 24 in Schuyler County, 235 in Steuben County, and 146 in Allegany County.
To compound the problem, hospitals are also facing staffing shortages.
Nearly 4% of New York City hospital and nursing home workers have quit, retired or been fired because they refuse to get vaccinated, the state health department said.
Many also left simply because they were exhausted, and many workers had to be temporarily sidelined due to their exposure to the virus.
But infected patients – most unvaccinated – kept coming, hospital officials said.
About 3,300 people have been admitted to Guthrie-owned hospitals with COVID-related symptoms since the pandemic began, said Dr. Michael Scalzone, Guthrie’s chief medical officer.
“It puts a strain on the healthcare system. It’s harder to take care of them,” Scalzone said. “There is a need for isolation and protection.
“We absolutely had to redeploy staff from one facility to another,” he said. “We had patients who needed to be admitted but there were no beds available yet and they had to stay in the emergency room”
Read our subscriber-only report:How are our doctors and nurses? Hear pandemic stories inside local hospitals
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