GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — On Wednesday, Jan. 12, 3News got a look inside the ICU at Cleveland Clinic Marymount Hospital in Garfield Heights, where their team continues to treat COVID-19 patients. While the health care workers there emphasized the importance of teamwork among their various departments and teams, they also urged the community to do its part by getting the vaccine. In doing so, they hope to ease the pressure on an already strained hospital system.
Dr. Jonathan Castro, director of the Medical ICU at Cleveland Clinic Marymount Hospital, has been a leader through the entire course of the pandemic. Marymount was designated as the original COVID-19 hospital for the Cleveland Clinic enterprise.
“Earlier on we had - one of the first few patients we took care of was actually one of our own, one of our own caregivers. It was quite nerve wracking having someone that you work with, kind of on a daily basis, get sick.” Dr. Castro said that colleague was on a respirator for eight or nine days, and thankfully, made a recovery. “It’s a blessing to see how much improved she [was] considering it was a life-threatening situation at the time. We’re blessed in this profession to be able to see that.”
But there have also been cases that haven’t had positive outcomes.
“That’s one of the distressing things sometimes. Patients ask you kind of point blank, 'will I make it?' And it’s a hard thing to answer,” he said. “You provide reassurance, you try to provide hope. It’s not always there.”
At the time 3News was in the ICU, there were 23 patients. Dr. Castro said 13 were COVID-19 positive. Dr. Castro said the situation was especially exhausting after recent spikes in COVID-19 cases over the holidays.
“Those were some of the peak numbers that we have,” he said. “It’s kind of scary having to see patients in the emergency department. They’re seeing a large volume of patients coming in, feeling sick. The hospitals are full, the ICUs are full. Every day there’s some patients waiting in emergency departments for extended amounts of time, waiting for a hospital bed, waiting for an ICU bed.”
Castro said they’re lucky there is a strong health system that can accommodate patients who need care, but it’s not easy. He said oftentimes patients are shuffled around.
With the number of patients, a nursing shortage, and absences as staff members catch the virus, staffing has been a challenge. There are 28 beds in the critical care unit, but some are empty because there is not enough staff to cover all of them.
Lauren Rogers, DNP, Director of Critical Care and Emergency Services at Cleveland Clinic Marymount Hospital, said they’ve been bringing in help from other departments and specialties to support the critical care team, allowing those nurses to designate some tasks.
“We’ve asked our teams to pick up additional shifts too as they’re able,” Rogers said. “We’re really balancing that. How many patients can we care for, how any patients do we have that need us?”
With the influx of COVID patients and staff out sick, the health care system is under pressure. Rogers said prior to COVID, “we were never really full, this has really stretched us.”
“We are at a point where we’re having to stretch ratios to be able to safely care for the patients who need us.”
Patricia Sturm is a critical care nurse who has been at Marymount since 2006. She said normally, she cares for one or two patients. Recently, she’s been caring for up to four.
“I’m not going to say it’s not difficult, because for an intensive care, having four very sick patients is very difficult. But if I didn’t have the help of my teammates I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Sturm said she strongly recommends the COVID-19 vaccine, because she has seen a difference in outcomes between people who are vaccinated and those who are not.
“You don’t know if it’s going to hit you today, tomorrow or never,” she said. “But spend time in the present with your loved ones, your family, and be there for them. Give them a hug and tell them you love them, because you don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring.”
Critical care nurse Kenneth Kunzelman has only been on the job for about six months. Already, he’s seen the same trend between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients.
“It’s exhausting, it’s exhausting to see the same situation over and over and over, that’s pretty much what I’ve dealt with since entering Marymount, lots of COVID cases,” he said. “It is exhausting, it’s frustrating, because I believe if people did get the vaccine, it would help make a better outcome for them, better outcome for everybody.”
It’s the same message from critical care nurse Marissa Mendise.
“A lot of our patients unfortunately aren’t vaccinated. And that’s the ones that end up on ventilators and are here for weeks at a time and have to go to skilled nursing facilities in order to regain their strength, learn to walk and whatnot again,” she said. “We still have vaccinated patients who still get it, but they’re not as bad.”
These health care workers hope that if more people are vaccinated, fewer will require hospitalization, something that would free up resources for other patients.
“Please get vaccinated so you don’t end up in our critical care unit,” Rogers said. “We need these critical care beds for patients who may be having strokes or may be having heart attacks or may be septic. We need those beds for that. When we can prevent an admission to critical care, we really need our community’s help to do that.”
Dr. Castro echoed that call to action, asking the public for help.
“The message is for the public to help us. The hospitals are jam packed with patients. The ICUs are full. The one thing that the public can help us out with is by getting the vaccine. It truly makes a difference. It prevents serious illness, it prevents them or their family members from having to be in the hospital, and it will make an impact in the coming weeks and months if people do.”
More COVID-19 coverage:
- President Biden sending medical teams to help Cleveland Clinic battle COVID surge
- The fight against COVID: NBC News gets exclusive look inside Cleveland Clinic’s ICU
- COVID-19 in Ohio: State reports 19,262 new cases in the last 24 hours
- Biden to double free COVID tests, add N95s, to fight omicron
- Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine: No pandemic response regrets