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Doctor says COVID ICU is ‘not a place anyone wants to be’

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 1:17 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – A nurse in navy blue scrubs and a purple surgical mask walks down a hallway in UAB’s COVID Intensive Care Unit. She navigates past two doctors talking by a computer, and then another group of doctors and nurses before turning a corner.

In another hallway, another nurse puts on layer after layer of protection before going inside a patient’s room.

Mask, gown, gloves, shield, ready.

Once inside, the nurse checks vitals, gives medication and makes sure the patient is OK.

The nurse leaves, removes the shield, gloves and gown, and heads to the next patient’s room to repeat the process.

The only people allowed in these units are healthcare workers and the patients who need treatment. No family, no friends, no visitors.

“These poor people are basically just cut off from the world, and that’s by necessity but it’s one of the cruelest things about it,” said Dr. Leland Allen, Infectious Diseases Specialist, Ascension St. Vincent’s.

The isolation is meant for infection control, but it also keeps the strain this virus is having on the healthcare system out of the public’s view.

For weeks, hospitals across Alabama have reported more patients needing ICU care than there are beds available.

More than half of the people currently in ICUs across the state are being treated for COVID, according to the Alabama Hospital Association.

“Never in my 25 years of medicine have I seen this many people on ventilators for anything like this,” said Dr. Allen. “It’s just, it’s bad for patients, a very bad situation.”

He added, “People don’t see it… And that’s why it’s so difficult to convince people that this is a real problem.”

Most people in hospitals being treated with COVID are unvaccinated, according to data from the Alabama Hospital Association. At UAB, 142 of their 159 COVID patients are unvaccinated. UAB reported 70 patients in the ICU as of September 1. All but 6 were unvaccinated, according to UAB. Ascension St. Vincent’s reported 83% of its COVID patients were unvaccinated as of September 1.

Dr. Allen said the data shows the vaccines are preventing serious disease and saving lives.

“What’s happening in hospitals across our state is that intensive care unit are full. It is, the ICUs are full and so this impacts care for everything, not just COVID-19. Being in an intensive care unit is miserable. People who are in ICUs are the ones who are much more likely to die of COVID and so I would say, if you’re worried about needing an ICU bed I can think of the single best way to put you in a position to avoid needing ICU care is to make sure you are fully vaccinated.”

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