Doctor: ER handling overflow of patients as Montgomery ICU beds fill

Updated: May. 25, 2020 at 8:21 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Over the last two to three weeks, hospitals in Montgomery have seen an alarming number of COVID-19 patients come through their doors.

“We’ve really seen an influx of patients with COVID-19 over the past two to three weeks,” said Dr. Lisa Williams, a Pulmonary Critical Care Specialist at hospitals in Montgomery. “Our ICU beds are full. We’ve been having a lot of overflow in the ICU.”

Williams said she has never seen this many patients coming into their hospitals in such a short period of time.

“I’ve been in Montgomery practicing pulmonary critical care medicine for 14 years and this is the highest census we’ve ever had to take care of,” said Williams. “It is overwhelming. We are taking care of just tons of ventilators.”

“I’m used to seeing death in the ICU, but the volume of death and not being able to help my patients is just heartbreaking,” said Williams. “To be honest with you every day I am on the brink of tears wanting to know when this is going to end because it’s tough and I don’t think people realize taking care of people that are dying that you can’t help.”

Now that ICU beds are full, the overflow of patients are being taken care of by Emergency Department nurses and doctors.

“The E.R. is equipped to take care of those patients if needed but it’s not the ideal situation by far,” Williams said. “E.R. nurses are doing a great job but they are not ICU nurses and it’s just not ideal.”

She says they are fortunate enough to have enough ventilators despite the large number of COVID-19 patients they are seeing.

“Right now we have enough ventilators to take care of them, we have enough staff right now to take care of them. I don’t know for how long but as of now we do have that available,” Williams said.

Her biggest concern is that the city does not have rapid testing available.

“This hospital does not have rapid testing. Our other hospitals have very limited rapid testing. So it’s hard to know if you have it or not,” Williams said. “It can take up to five days to get those results. The challenge with that comes is you waste PPE’s.”

Staff becoming infected with the virus is also a concern.

“We have several medical personnel that have been infected by this virus and so you know nursing staff, respiratory staff is having to work extra shifts and have to work harder to take care of more patients,” said Williams.

“They are trying so hard with these patients and seeing them breakdown with tears because they feel like they aren’t making a difference and it’s hard,” said Williams.

She said it’s difficult for medical staff to help these patients without a treatment available.

“I do pulmonary and critical care medicine,” Williams said. “I have patients that are on life support machines ranging from ages of 26 up to in the 90s and unfortunately when you get to that point on mechanical ventilation, life support, your life expectancy is very bad regardless of what medicine I give you.”

“We do have access to plasma, Remdesivir, Actemra, all the medicines that are being used to treat this disease, however, especially later in the diseases, it’s not working,” Williams said. “It’s hard to take care of patients dying when I have no treatment to offer them except supportive care.”

Williams said at first she thought the city of Montgomery was doing a great job protecting themselves, but now people are not.

“We see patients of all ages and all walks of life with COVID-19,” Williams said. “No one is immune to it and I think that is what’s scary. I think that a lot of people in our community feel like if they get it they will be ok and hopefully they will be, but a lot of people regardless of your age are getting sick.”

“I think there are a lot of people I’m taking care of that caught it from people they know and I think people are just not respecting the wearing masks in public, trying to do the social distancing,” said Williams. “Unfortunately I don’t think they realize how serious it is.”

She said people are recovering, but not in the numbers they would like to be seeing.

“We have seen some people get better and that is just wonderful. It’s just not as common as we are used to seeing getting the folks better,” Williams said. “But everyone is stepping up and putting themselves at risk for others and that’s what is amazing.”

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