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Ballad, Centra Cut Back On Elective Procedures As COVID-related Hospitalizations Climb

The main hospital systems in the Lynchburg area and the southwest corner of Virginia are cutting back on elective surgeries as they see more and more COVID-19 patients.

Ballad Health, the main provider in the southwest tip of the Commonwealth and northeast Tennessee will postpone all elective and non-emergency surgeries effective Thursday, August 26th. That include procedures that were already scheduled.

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As of Wednesday morning, Ballad facilities reported 283 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, up from 201 the Wednesday before. Seventy-one are in the Intensive Care Unit. Forty-three are on ventilators, the highest number reported by Ballad during the pandemic. "These are records we don’t want to break," COO Eric Deaton said in a weekly news briefing. "And unfortunately we are seeing more and more cases and more and more sicker patients."

Given the current rate of increases in cases and hospitalizations in its service area, Ballad officials believe they will see 400 hospitalized patients sometime next week. During last winter's surge, the number peaked at 361.

Ballad officials say suspending elective procedures is necessary to preserve capacity and staff to treat not only COVID-19 patients, but also serious cases like heart attacks. The hospital system already has 258 patients in its "safe at home" program. Those are COVID-19 patients who are being monitored through telehealth but might otherwise need hospitalization. "If we did not have 'safe at home' and if we had not deferred the elective procedures, we would be at a census right now that we could not sustain or handle," CEO Alan Levine told reporter. "We are doing everything possible to mitigate the census in the hospitals so that we have the supply of staff that we can take care of the people that come in the door." Twenty National Guard members are working at Ballad's hospital in Johnson City and officials have requested more.

Ballad officials said they were also alarmed by the increasing number of children testing positive. Over the last few days, about 43% of new COVID-19 cases in the region were under the age of 18. Nine children are hospitalized for complications related to COVID-19.

Centra Health Faces Alarming Influx of COVID-19 Patients, Limits Elective Surgeries

Centra Health is facing an alarming influx of COVID-19 patients.

The health system operates hospitals in Lynchburg and southside Virginia.

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Centra Health

During a call with reporters Wednesday, Dr. Chris Lewis described the scene at Lynchburg General Hospital earlier this week – the only hospital that serves that city.

“Monday night we had 72 patients in our ER waiting room, which was a new record for us," Lewis explained. "There were a total of 136 patients in the ER at one point and we generally see no more than a hundred. 30 of those folks – our community members – were waiting for a bed.” 

Lewis said more than 20 people have died from complications with the virus so far in August. And most people hospitalized are unvaccinated.

Centra is cutting back on some elective surgeries because of the influx of COVID patients. And the health system could cut back even further if the situation continues to worsen.

Roanoke Area Cases Continue To Grow

COVID-19 cases in the Roanoke area continued to grow over the past week, though the number of hospitalizations dropped a bit.

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The director of the Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District reported 671 new cases over the past week, up from 484 the previous week. Thirty-eight district residents were hospitalized for complications related to COVID-19, as of Tuesday. That number dropped from 46 the previous Tuesday.

In a weekly call with reporters, Dr. Cynthia Morrow noted that a significant percentage of the new cases were in younger people. "If we look at the new cases over the past week, about 30 percent of the cases are in people under the age of 24 and about 20% of those are under the age of 18. So it’s really important for us to do what we can to protect our children," Morrow said. While most K-12 schools in the district have resumed classes, there is currently only one active outbreak in a K-12 setting. Morrow added that there is sometimes a lag in the reporting of outbreak data on the Virginia Department of Health's website, though.

The district is planning a mass vaccination event for Monday at Roanoke's Berglund Center. Morrow cited demand for booster shots for immune-compromised individuals and an increase in interest among unvaccinated people. Signup information is available here.