By Erica Thomas, managing editor
BIRMINGHAM — Local hospitals are seeing an influx in patients as COVID-19 cases increase rapidly in Alabama.
On Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, people at St. Vincent’s East reported long waiting times in the emergency department. Hospital President Suzannah Campbell said St. Vincent’s East isn’t alone in the growing problem.
“Due to the COVID-19 surge in our community, our hospital, along with all other area hospitals, are facing capacity constraints,” said Campbell.
The surge is another reason Campbell said it is important for people to take the virus seriously.
“Now, more than ever, we need our community’s help in combating this pandemic,” Campbell added. “We implore you to practice social distancing, wear a mask and practice good hand hygiene to help us combat the spread.”
UAB Hospital is also seeing an increase in staff absences. The hospital announced Wednesday that it is bringing in more than 120 students and faculty members from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s nursing school to help fill the gaps.
The hospital, which already has enlisted retired nurses to assist with care, will use faculty members and graduate students, all licensed registered nurses, to fill outpatient care teams. Undergraduate students will serve as technicians and assist with vaccine distribution, the hospital said in a statement.
Almost 50 of the new workers are faculty members, while more than 70 are nursing students. The program is meant to assist nurses, not replace them, the hospital said.
Statistics compiled by bamatracker.com show the state on Wednesday added more than 4,100 new cases of COVID-19, and the virus has killed almost 4,200 people statewide. The Alabama Hospital Association said staffing shortages have worsened as cases increase, partly because seriously ill COVID-19 patients require extra care.
While COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, it can be deadly for people who have other serious health problems.
Health care workers and a few others including elderly veterans have begun receiving vaccines to guard against the illness, but health officials say most members of the general public won’t begin receiving vaccinations for weeks.