ENID, Okla. — No staff at Enid’s two hospitals have been laid off for being unvaccinated against COVID-19, hospital officials said, ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected ruling on the federal vaccination mandate for health care employers.
St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center is waiting for justices to rule on the mandate for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which goes into effect Monday, before requiring employees to be fully vaccinated, St. Mary’s marketing director Heidi Hughes said. The hospital currently encourages employees to get the shots, she said.
So is Integris Bass Baptist Health Center, but Integris chief hospital executive Kurt DeVaney said the entire hospital system has been moving forward with a 100% vaccination requirement since August, to align with a prior nationwide mandate.
While the Supreme Court halted that mandate, DeVaney said the hospitals were close to 100% vaccination already, not including approved medical and non-medical exemptions.
“Regardless, I feel like our caregivers put themselves in a place where we don’t have to worry about it,” he said.
The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Enid — most of whom were unvaccinated patients — has more than doubled over the past three weeks as the omicron variant has led to an increase in active cases.
On Dec. 16, 2021, Integris and St. Mary’s reported a combined total of 13 COVID-positive patients, five of whom were in the Intensive Care Unit.
By Friday, Jan. 7, Integris had 13 COVID-positive patients, with five in the ICU, and as of Thursday, St. Mary’s had 17 patients with COVID-19, with six in the ICU.
About 15% of COVID-19 patients who have been hospitalized are fully vaccinated, DeVaney said.
Since Dec. 23, St. Mary’s has experienced a 59% increase in COVID-19 patients, 73% of whom have been unvaccinated, Hughes said.
The hospitalization numbers are similar to figures from January 2021 and from the end of last summer, when the delta COVID variant spread across Oklahoma.
“During what I would refer to as ‘the delta surge’ ... we got up into the low-20s,” DeVaney said. “We haven’t hit that yet, but we’re definitely seeing an increase.”
Testing for COVID-19 variants at both hospitals is coordinated with Oklahoma State Department of Health, so it’s unknown which variant patients have.
As of Thursday, St. Mary’s had 17 COVID-19-positive patients, with six in the ICU.
COVID-19 cases across Oklahoma are increasing at similar levels to January 2021. On Jan. 7, 2021, there were 34,854 active COVID-19 cases across the state; on Friday, 39,051 cases were reportedly active.
Total cases in Oklahoma have more than doubled since last year, to 737,593.
St. Mary’s has 52 med-surg beds and 10 ICU beds, Hughes said, though the number of beds operated can change on any given day based upon patient diagnoses, required resources and staffing.
St. Mary’s is currently facing capacity challenges. Several staff members positive for COVID were on leave Thursday, and all patients hospitalized were from within St Mary’s’ service area, Hughes said.
Requests for bed availability from outside the area are reviewed and evaluated based on capacity and capability at that time.
“All the hospitals in Oklahoma — we’re all working together, especially here in our community, to make sure that the residents who need a bed can be placed in a bed,” she said.
Integris, as of Thursday, was completely full, DeVaney said. With the staffing available at the hospital, there are seven ICU beds and a combined total of 30 med-surg and intermediate care beds.
“Our hospital is obviously a lot bigger than just 37 inpatient beds,” DeVaney said. “If we had all the staff in the world, we’d have more beds open, but we are just kind of constrained to where our staff numbers are at.”
Compared with this time last year, a lot of patients coming in have illnesses other than COVID-19, he said, including influenza, which has strained the capacity.
“We have multiple calls every day, internally, talking about, ‘How many patients are going to be discharged? What units are they going to be on? What does the volume in the ER look like,’ so that we can determine the movement of the hospital,” he said. “While we might have 37 patients right now, later in the day … that number might drop, but then there might be five more patients who need to be admitted.”
When one hospital is overwhelmed or full, others can be affected, DeVaney said.
As the volume increases, the entire health care system can get backlogged as patients have to be transferred to or seek care at other hospitals.
“It’s just across the spectrum of health care right now when you’re looking at the hospitals in Oklahoma — it really just ends up delaying the entire care spectrum,” DeVaney said. “Even at emergency departments — if there’s a couple of patients waiting to go upstairs for a room or waiting to be transferred, that’s two less rooms that we can bring patients into, so that increases the wait times for patients coming in.”
Both St. Mary’s and Integris have COVID-19 precautions in place, including masking, screenings, social distancing, placing dividers up in waiting rooms and visitor limitations.
Surge plans that can be enacted as needed are in place, as well.
“We’re having conversations every day with our department heads and our staff just so that we can stay prepared and ready,” Hughes said.
Members of the community can help curb the spread of COVID-19 by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, limiting gatherings, washing their hands and staying home if they’re showing symptoms of any illness, Hughes and DeVaney said.
Hughes also reminded people to not delay seeking health care, whether it’s with a primary care physician or an emergency situation.
“We just want everyone to know that we continue to prepare and be prepared, and we’re doing our best to just stay on top of our capacity, staffing and supplies, and just making sure that we have solid plans in place to continue to help the community,” she said.
DeVaney encouraged people to continue to thank those who work in health care.
“They’re still the heroes of this whole thing, and they’re still continuing to go above and beyond for the community, patients and each other,” he said.
Staff writer Alexander Ewald contributed to this story.