COVID-19 hospitalizations on the rise again at Meritus Medical Center


“Challenging” does not begin to describe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nurses and others at Meritus Medical Center.

“It was more than just challenges,” said Heather Markell, director of clinical nursing at the hospital near Hagerstown.

“It’s gratifying. It’s gratifying. It’s heartbreaking. It’s devastating. It’s hopeless. Sometimes you have hope. It’s never ending,” she said.

And now the workload is increasing.


Despite the availability of vaccines, advice on masking and social distancing and medical advancements, Markell and his colleagues are seeing a wave of COVID-19 patients that look like they experienced last winter, in the height of the pandemic here.

But this time, she said, their COVID-19 patients are younger.

They are sicker.

And most – over 80%, typically – are unvaccinated.

In July, the county recorded two deaths from COVID, according to the county health department. In October, the number was 42.

Since the start of the pandemic, the county has reported at least 423 deaths from COVID-19.

Registered nurse Rachel Eiker is seen through a hospital room window while checking on Carlos Cobos, of Hagerstown, a COVID-19 patient from the regional infection containment unit at Meritus Medical Center.

“It’s going to be a long winter”

“At this point, COVID-19 is largely a preventable disease, but it continues to place a significant burden on our community,” Washington County health official Earl Stoner wrote in an email Thursday. “The only way out is to all work together for the greater good of the community, and that means protecting us all.”

Stoner wrote that he acknowledges that “everyone is exhausted from this pandemic”. But, still, the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are increasing again.

Earl Stoner, Washington County health official, speaking in March 2020 at a press conference on the coronavirus and how the public can help prevent the spread of the virus.

“Put simply, people need to get vaccinated and boosted; wear a mask in indoor public places; get tested if they have symptoms or have been exposed to an infected person; and stay home if they are sick. Now it’s more important than ever. that we collectively focus on the things we know to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, ”he wrote.

He and Danielle Stahl, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, have called for vaccination for all people aged 5 and over.

Maulik Joshi, CEO and Chairman of Health of merit, said the public should take note.

“I think we need a health advisory right now,” he said.

COVID-19 numbers plunged a few months ago. Vaccines were being distributed and the warmer weather kept people out longer.

On July 17, Meritus did not have a single patient in the hospital with COVID-19.

But at the end of August, that number was 31. At the end of November, it reached 53.

Wednesday, 60 patients were being treated for COVID.

Of these, 49 people – 82% – were not vaccinated. Thirteen of these 60 people were in intensive care and 85% of them in intensive care were not vaccinated. And five were on ventilators – four of whom were not vaccinated.

According to figures kept by the county, 51.2% of Washington County residents were fully immunized as of Dec. 4.

the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention says you become “fully vaccinated” 14 days after receiving a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The CDC also says people 18 and older should be given booster shots.

The county’s positivity rate, which was less than 1% in the summer, was over 14% as of December 3. Meritus Health recorded a positivity rate of over 18% for the tests it administered.

Maulik Joshi

Joshi is convinced that “we are going to get out of this” pandemic and that the community can do it together.

He always urges people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

“Most people who are very sick are not vaccinated,” he said.

For Joshi, the latest news on variants, such as the omicron, is interesting. The most important thing is what people can do every day.

“To me it’s smoke,” he said of the variants. “The fire is always COVID. It is important for all of us to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Eventually, the pandemic will become endemic, like the annual flu season. In an endemic, a virus is present, but manageable.

“We’re not there yet with COVID-19,” he said.

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A hospital worker stands outside the room of a COVID-19 patient in the regional infection containment unit at Meritus Medical Center.

The COVID pandemic is at a pace and impact “that is far from over,” he said. And being endemic “also means your hospitals aren’t stressed out.”

Right now, he said, hospitals are under stress.

To find enough nurses, Meritus sought help from other sources, such as external agencies that offer temporary staffing options.

“We have over 100 agency nurses, the highest number we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Joshi said.

“It’s going to be a long winter and our staff are really tired.

Clinical Director Heather Markell is represented in the regional infection containment unit at Meritus Medical Center.

“Fill those buckets”

Markell said that she and the other frontline nurses and “every member of this healthcare facility want the best for this community. They want the best health care for this community.

She also said some nurses have changed professions due to the pandemic’s toll.

“I’ve seen nurses go (a change) on top of the world because we’ve had patients that we’ve been able to successfully send home after seeing them go through a week, two weeks, three weeks, 32 days of stay. in the hospital isolated from their family, their loved ones, their known way of life, ”said Markell.

But there are other times.

“I’ve seen nurses leave with their pail so empty, that’s all they can do to sit in the car in the parking lot and talk to each other about their next shift,” she said. declared.

A hospital worker applies hand sanitizer before putting on a new pair of gloves while working with COVID-19 patients in the regional infection containment unit at Meritus Medical Center.

When doing these shifts, nurses see different types of patients than they saw last winter.

“The first time around, we saw a lot of elderly patients with comorbidities (who) really suffered, and we have a lot of losses and this generational gap,” Markell said. “This time around we’re seeing much younger patients.… Patients in their fifties, patients in their twenties or thirties, if not healthy independent people who will remain dependent on oxygen. They will remain dependent on therapy. They will remain dependent on assistive devices such as wheelchairs or walkers. “

Brenda Shafer, the unit's nutrition specialist, applies hand sanitizer before putting on a new pair of gloves while working with COVID-19 patients in the regional infection containment unit at Meritus Medical Center.

Even putting on and taking off gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment can put a strain on healthcare professionals. The process may seem like a delay for patients who have pushed a bedside ringtone, Markell said. And the equipment limits human relations between nurses and their patients.

Then there is the rise and fall in the number of cases.

“Just when we think we can reunite our loved ones and reunite, and we can start to achieve what we would consider normal, (then) seven days later, we might see a spike,” said Markell.

She said staff were grateful for the summer days without COVID patients. But to some, when the numbers started to climb again, it looked like a false victory.

“It’s been a challenge for us as leaders to keep asking them to fill those buckets to say, ‘This is a victory. It is a victory. And you must know that it is a victory. “And even though it’s a day that we don’t have any COVID-positive patients, it’s a victory. And even though, two weeks later, we have 20 more admissions, that hope and glimpse over time is a victory.


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