‘They didn’t need to be here’: At hospital, surge in COVID patients weighs on staff

It’s not a milestone Dr. James Heise was proud to reach. On Dec. 9, Door County Medical Center had 10 inpatients sick with COVID-19, a number that represented half of all patients in the hospital and the highest number of COVID-19 patients at one time since the pandemic began 18 months earlier. 

“The surge is now happening,” Heise said during an episode of the Door County Pulse podcast recorded Friday. And although 10 patients doesn’t seem high to those from a city, it is high for a hospital that’s licensed for just 25 beds – and particularly one that typically staffs at a level for 12 beds to be full on a given day. 

Door County Pulse Podcasts · Dr. Heise: Hospital Full as COVID Hospitalizations Surge Among Unvaccinated

But for most of the last month, the hospital has often operated at or above capacity, with an average inpatient census of 21. 

“We simply don’t have the nurses and the doctors to handle all of those patients,” Heise said. 

Most disappointing for Heise and his staff is that nearly all of those being hospitalized for COVID-19 are not vaccinated. In Door County, among all those who have been hospitalized with COVID-19, 86% were unvaccinated, said Sue Powers, Door County Public Health officer. Two patients had died during the week before Heise was interviewed. 

“What we’re seeing is the ones in the hospital with respiratory failure from COVID are younger by far,” Heise said. “These are primarily people in their 40s and 50s. If you’re unvaccinated and you get COVID and you get sick from COVID, you’re being hospitalized.”

The highest age group of cases during the past month has been those who are 18 years old or younger, Powers said. That age group has only mild cases, but they can spread the disease to vulnerable older adults.

All of this is taking a toll on Heise and his staff, who as recently as September were hopeful they had seen the last big wave of patients. 

“I can tell you as a practicing doctor in the hospital right now that nothing is more gut wrenching than seeing someone who is intubated on a ventilator who’s younger who didn’t have to be there because that would have been avoided had they been vaccinated,” he said. “So you ask if we’re in a crisis situation. I would say the whole state is in a crisis situation right now. If I had to transfer someone who had a heart attack and needs to have a cardiac catheterization – good luck.”

Heise said he has seen some vaccinated individuals hospitalized, but those patients were elderly individuals transferred from congregate homes who were mainly suffering from profound weakness rather than respiratory failure. 

He is frustrated by claims that COVID is not real, and that hospitals are lying about hospitalizations or who is getting sick. 

“It’s not a lie. When you work in the field, I’m here to tell you it’s factual,” he said. “These are our neighbors and our friends and our family that we want to take care of.”

Heise urged people to get vaccinated, and urged everyone – even those who are vaccinated – to wear masks in indoor settings such as grocery stores.

Hear the complete interview at 

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