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Fatigue, frustration deepening among COVID-19 patients, hospital staffs

Yale New Haven Health’s chief executive officer remarked Wednesday on what she described as a growing lack of civility among COVID-19 patients and their family members.

Marna Borgstrom, speaking at the start of a virtual news briefing, said the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations is challenging her health system’s clinical staff and employees, a record number of whom have been forced to stay home in recent days after encountering the omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes the disease.

More than 700 staff members were out one day last week, Borgstrom said, and 439 were out Wednesday.

She said employees are exhausted and frustrated by the sheer length of the pandemic, now nearing its second anniversary, and by treating patients who still refuse to be vaccinated. But it’s the daily reports of bad patient behavior, including physical altercations with staff members, that are the most unsettling.

During morning reports of employee injuries, “It’s unusual not to have a report of an employee who’s been assaulted,” Borgstrom said.

She said that while making rounds with the president of Bridgeport Hospital, he got a call about an altercation at a COVID-19 testing site. Patients in line had gotten into a fistfight. At a New Haven location, a staff member reported he was tired of patients and their family members berating and being disrespectful to staffers.

While she was making rounds another time, Borgstrom said, a patient became very loud and unkind in complaining about being held in the emergency room rather than admitted to the main hospital.

During Hartford HealthCare’s daily COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Dr. Ajay Kumar, the chief clinical officer, said he was concerned about rising tensions between staff and patients but was not aware of any physical violence.

“We’re dealing with more grievances than ever,” he said.

Both hospital systems reported increases in the number of COVID-19 patients they’re treating, with Yale New Haven Health’s total soaring Wednesday to 738, up from 531 at the end of 2021 — less than two weeks earlier. Affiliates Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London and Westerly Hospital had 68 and 16 patients, respectively.

Of the systemwide total, 106 patients were being treated in intensive care, including 68 on ventilators.

On a positive note, Borgstrom said Yale New Haven Health discharged 89 patients to home or a lower level of care in a single day last week. Many patients infected with the omicron variant are less sick than those infected with other variants, including delta, and require shorter hospital stays.

Dr. Thomas Balcezak, Yale New Haven Health’s chief clinical officer, said the numbers are near to plateauing but they’re likely to decline slowly over an extended period. He said about 10% to 15% of the hospitalizations were “incidental,” meaning they involved patients who came to the hospital for reasons unrelated to COVID-19 and tested positive for the disease after arriving. While such cases often turn out to be less serious, they must be approached in the same way as other cases.

Kumar reported that Hartford HealthCare’s COVID-19 patient count had climbed to 535, including 47 at Backus Hospital in Norwich and 15 at Windham Hospital. Of the total, 71 were being treated in intensive care units, 50 of them on ventilators. Few of the ventilated have been vaccinated and none has received a booster, Kumar said.

Wednesday's statewide numbers show 7,318 new COVID-19 cases had been found among 34,460 tests, which translates to a one-day positivity rate of 21.24%. Hospitalizations had increased by 19 to 1,939.

Dimitris Bertsimas, an applied mathematician and a professor in the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said his review of Hartford HealthCare data indicates the number of COVID-19 cases will continue to increase for several weeks, though the rate of increase is slowing.

“Unfortunately, we are not out of the woods,” he said in emphasizing the importance of the population getting vaccinated and boosted.

Kumar, asked about a lawsuit in which St. Francis Hospital in Hartford has accused Hartford HealthCare of employing monopolistic practices, dismissed the allegations as having no merit. He said Hartford HealthCare would vigorously defend itself.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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