Emergency room staff at Montgomery’s Jackson Hospital are exhausted, in personal danger and frustrated.
“I don’t mind putting my life on the line, that’s what I trained for,” said a Jackson Hospital emergency room staffer. “But what I didn’t expect was the lack of planning, supplies, and guidance at the level we are experiencing right now.”
All of the ER workers who spoke with APR asked for anonymity as they are not authorized to speak for the hospital.
Over the last serval days, APR has heard from emergency room personnel about the lack of tests, beds, ventilators and personal protection equipment at Jackson, one of the primary health care facilities in the capital city.
As of early Sunday morning, Jackson had a suspected 12 COVID-19 patients in its intensive care unit, the staff who spoke with APR said. The number of people receiving treatment for suspected COVID-19 infection may be higher than the confirmed cases in the county because of delays in test results, a shortage of testing materials and cases from neighboring counties.
The hospital has an average ICU capacity of around 20 beds with about the same number of ventilators. Currently, the ICU is near capacity and using an overflow facility for non-COVID patients.
“The ‘COVID’ ICU has at least 12 patients,” said a staffer. “I don’t know how many are confirmed 100 percent because of the test delays.” Currently, it takes up to four days for tests to be confirmed. “Clinically, they all have classic symptoms for what we know about COVID-19, so we are working under the assumption that they have it.”
On Saturday, four presumed infected patients were transferred from the East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika and three were placed immediately in the ICU and put on ventilators.
Lee County has reported 16 COVID-19 cases, Montgomery County has reported three cases, and neighboring Elmore County has reported 6 confirmed cases. But more can be excepted as the ADPH continues to perform testing and update its case counts. (Updated Sunday at 6:30 p.m.)
Not only is the staff working overtime, but they are also doing so without proper personal protective equipment, or PPE.
“We ran out of PPEs a few days ago and are reusing the same stuff,” said a medical staffer. “We are in danger and there are no supplies.”
Another ER worker paints an even more grim picture of what is happening inside the hospital.
“We have had deaths that are most likely COVID patients as they presented with the classic symptoms,” said the worker. “We are waiting for confirmation.”
“These patients are so sick when they come in, and they go down super quick and the vent is not making them better like most we see who go on it,” said another member of the medical staff. “These patients remain hypoxic despite the vents.”
On Sunday, the ventilator supply was only about 7 to 10, a staffer reported, but now it is up to around 35 due to donations.
“What do we do when we run out of beds? What do we do when there are no more ventilators?” a worker pondered. “And what happens when we are all sick?”
Doctors and nurses at Jackson Hospital say they are working hard to save lives but feel there is a lack of coordination along with the lack of supplies and beds.
“There’s a lot of denial even in the medical community,” said an individual with knowledge of the hospital’s crisis. “There’s been a lack of planning and doctors and nurses are receiving very little education on what to do, what to expect, what to look for, and what to do without resources.”
The big question on the minds of staffers who spoke with APR is when the government’s response will equal its rhetoric and the realities on the ground?
Update on Sunday, March 22, 2020, at 6:30 p.m.: APR emailed Jackson Hospital Sunday morning, after speaking with the sources in this story, for comment about the hospital’s current patient load, capacity and whether it was experiencing a ventilator shortage. We did not receive a response before publication.
The hospital later posted this statement on its website and social media after this story was published:
“The Jackson Hospital physicians and staff are focused on the safety and health of our community and those we serve during this Coronavirus crisis.
“There is a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment, ventilators, masks, etc. This is not specific to Jackson Hospital, nor does it hinder our dedication to the wellbeing of our community. Staff members at Jackson Hospital are trained in the use of the available personal protective equipment, in accordance with the CDC guidelines to ensure the safety of our staff and patients.
“Jackson hospital did not receive prior knowledge of the article and was not contacted to respond to the false allegations there in. Jackson Hospital is here and ready to take care of the patients in our community and will remain steadfast on the frontlines until we all are safe from this global pandemic.”
The statement does not address the specific details provided by the reliable sources within Jackson’s emergency department, who APR spoke with for this story.
We did not publish with the intention of targeting Jackson Hospital or its staff, nor with the intention of sensationalizing the situation. Instead, we felt it necessary to inform the community about the strain hospitals are already feeling amid the Coronvirus pandemic.