An official from a small hospital in Michigan delivered some powerful and passional remarks Thursday about struggling to treat unvaccinated COVID patients while knowing that those patients didn’t do everything they could to help themselves.
Nicole Linder, MD, chief hospitalist at OSF St. Francis Hospital & Medical Group, is one of many hospital officials who spoke during the briefing about the importance of Michiganders receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
12 takeaways from briefing: 4th COVID surge, hospital staff shortage, employee productivity
“I am fatigued and I am heartsick and I’m tired of watching people suffer needlessly and die of a disease that could have been prevented by a simple and safe and effective vaccine,” Linder said. “I don’t want to watch my patients’ families suffer with the grief of this, and also the guilt if they played some role in their family member’s decision not to be vaccinated.
“The issues that we’re dealing with in caring for these hospitalized COVID patients that weren’t present during the earlier waves, I think, do create a new dimension of stress and sadness and fatigue for those of us on the front lines. You’re taking care of people who are dying that didn’t need to die.”
You can watch Linder’s full comments in the video above.
She said St. Francis is a small, 25-bed critical access hospital with a four-physician and one PA group and no ICU. It was difficult for the staff to stay afloat during the early COVID surges.
“We’ve struggled, at times, with bed capacity, and our facility was able to get emergency authorization to increase the number of our beds available,” Linder said. “Those beds were expanded, but we did not have expanded staffing. For that increase in volume, the entire hospital staff kind of drew together and worked extra shifts and stayed late and did all we could to help out each other and our patients.”
They also lost many experienced nurses to retirement. Others moved to different areas of nursing.
Linder said when she heard about the COVID vaccine, it initially felt like they could finally see a light at the end of a dark tunnel.
“I was really relieved and really hopeful when there was a highly effective vaccine developed much more rapidly that I could have dreamed,” Linder said. “I think there was a feeling that we were getting to the finish line and we just had to hold on until the vaccine was available and then everyone would be vaccinated and this whole thing would be over.
“Unfortunately, we now know that’s not the case, and we’re currently, at our hospital, experiencing a significant wave of COVID right now. We’re seeing many of the same systemic problems again, can’t get our patients transferred out to critical care services.”
This wave of COVID cases has been very different at St. Francis Hospital. Employees know that the vast majority of COVID patients are there because they refused to get vaccinated.
“The difference is that nearly all of the patients that we’re caring for made the choice to not be vaccinated,” Linder said. “We’ve seen very few vaccinated patients in the hospital -- less than I can count on one hand. (No vaccinated patients) have been very critically ill. None of them have died of the disease during our time with them.”
She said the unvaccinated patients and their family members typically have a distrust of medicine in general. There’s also a “disbelief” when they’re very ill that they could really be so sick from COVID, she said.
But at the same time, those patients want and expect the highest level of medical care.
“There seems to be this erroneous belief that all of these patients should be at a tertiary care center and that if we just gave the right cocktail of substances to them that we can cure this,” Linder said. “Unfortunately, we all know that’s not the case.”
She believes people overestimate the effectiveness of the current treatments for COVID, especially in comparison to the vaccine.
“The best treatment that we have so far that I’m aware of is dexamethasone, and that only decreases your risk of death by 20-30% if you have a moderate to severe disease,” Linder said. “You can’t even give it in mild disease or it increases your risk of death.”
She said she’s been struck by patients who “don’t want to inject some untested or foreign substance” into their body. Anyone hospitalized with a serious case of COVID is going to be injected with foreign substances -- many less proven than the COVID vaccine, according to Linder.
“This is all to avoid a vaccine that has been proven to be safe and effective,” Linder said. “If you get the vaccine, you have a .001% chance of dying of a breakthrough infection. That’s a staggeringly small number.”
DISCUSS: Share comments about this article in the COVID-19 Discussion Forum.