Post-Christmas wave next?

Posted 1/4/22

By JOHN HOWELL The most recent wave of Covid-19 cases hit Kent Hospital two to three weeks after Thanksgiving when the number of hospitalized patients tripled. Many of those patients were infected with the Delta variant. Dr. Paari Gopalakrishnan,

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Post-Christmas wave next?


The most recent wave of Covid-19 cases hit Kent Hospital two to three weeks after Thanksgiving when the number of hospitalized patients tripled. Many of those patients were infected with the Delta variant.

Dr. Paari Gopalakrishnan, formerly chief medical officer at Kent and now interim president is preparing for a post-Christmas wave only this time infected with the Omicron variant.  He said Kent has treated some Omicron patients, but it’s predominately Delta at this point.

“The next few weeks concern me,” Gopalakrishnan said in an interview last Thursday. The early December spike in Covid-19 cases came after people gathered for Thanksgiving whether locally or traveling to visit family and friends. The number of patients at Kent – Gopalakrishnan said about 25 percent of the hospital’s beds or three to four wards are devoted to Covid-19 cases – has not tapered off since the post-Thanksgiving surge. So, the prospect of a wave of patients infected as a result of Christmas gatherings with the Omicron variant would further strain a system already stretched thin. As of Monday when 19 new Covid-19 patients were admitted to the hospital, Kent had a total of 58 Covid-19 patients. A total of 44 percent of the hospital’s ICU & step-down unit were made up of Covid-19 patients.

On Thursday the hospital enacted a ban on visitors. Gopalakrishnan said exceptions include parents of hospitalized children, family of patients in end of life cases and would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The biggest challenge faced by the hospital is staffing and in particular nurses.

“We’re kind of struggling with staff in general,” Gopalakrishnan said. The pressure point is the emergency department where the hospital has had difficulty filling positions and despite local recruiting efforts has had to turn to traveling nurses that has pushed up costs and strained budgets. Gopalakrishnan estimated 10 to 15 percent of the emergency department nurses are traveling nurses.

“They’re so hard working,” Gopalakrishnan said of all of the hospital’s nurses. “They’re very dedicated and resilient…I can’t say enough about them.”

“Kent like most hospitals in the state have been at or over capacity secondary to staffing for several months,” Gopalakrishnan wrote in an email Monday.

He thinks deployment of the National Guard personnel to the hospital as advocated by United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) Local 5098 at Rhode Island Hospital could be helpful although he did not push it. In a statement issued Thursday, Frank Sims, R.N., president of Local 5098 said, “Staff are stressed, overworked, burnt out, and are now forced to take on even more patients. At least a dozen nurses will be asked to change from working days to working nights to accommodate these changes. And we have no idea how long this will last.”

Sims said the union has called on the governor to deploy the National Guard immediately, “to assist in any way they can.”

Gopalakrishnan said most of the Covid-19 cases Kent is seeing are walk-ins. Even so, he does not recommend at the first sign of virus symptoms that people report to the emergency department. He said they should first visit their primary care physician, adding that since the outbreak of the pandemic 20 months ago, general practitioners are far better equipped to assess the severity of a case and determine if hospitalization is the best course of action.

But still, Gopalakrishnan emphasized, if a person feels it’s an emergency situation and they can’t wait, they should report to the hospital.

While the hospital does Covid-19 tests and will administer them, he does not recommend that people seeking to get tested visit the hospital. As the hospital is focused on dealing with emergency Covid-19 cases, people looking to get tested could face waits of three to four hours.

On a positive note, Gopalakrishnan says that generally the severity of Covid-19 cases has diminished with the introduction of vaccines. He couldn’t provide statistics, yet he said the majority of Covid cases being treated at Kent are unvaccinated and a majority of those who have died had not been vaccinated.

“This is not a silver bullet,” Gopalakrishnan said of vaccines. “With vaccinations and boosters there’s less chance of getting Covid, it decreases the risk of getting it and being hospitalized.”

The Care New England board named Gopalakrishnan Kent’s interim president about two months ago when former president Robert Haffey accepted the post of CEO of Brocton, MA-based Signature Healthcare.


Kent Hospital, Christmas wave


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