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Cleveland Hospitals Say Rise In Health Workers With COVID Could Impact Care

Updated 4:20 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16, 2020

As the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to climb in Ohio, Cleveland-area hospital leaders are concerned about the growing number of health care workers who are out sick with the coronavirus.  

According to hospital officials, about 800 Cleveland Clinic employees, 200 at University Hospitals, and 60 MetroHealth staffers are out, making it more difficult to care for the rising number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Cuyahoga County.  

“If we have many of our staff out because of exposure, while there’s a large influx of COVID patients, we will not be able to provide the best care to everyone who needs it," said MetroHealth CEO and President Dr. Akram Boutros. 

The health care workers are either diagnosed with COVID-19, in the required 10-day waiting period since symptom onset or are recovering and awaiting symptom clearance to return to work, health officials said. 

Contact tracing shows the employees are not contracting the virus at work, but out in the community, Boutros said at a Monday news conference. 

“They have contact with family members, they go to church, they go to gatherings... that’s where they get it from,” he said, “a child, a cousin, somebody they went to a restaurant with, somebody they went to the gym with.”  

The area hospitals are anticipating a “greater influx” of COVID-19 patients in the next few weeks, officials said. Currently, there are about 400 patients hospitalized across Cleveland Clinic’s Northeast Ohio locations, said CEO Dr. Tom Mihaljevic. 

There are about 200 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at University Hospitals (UH), and the health system is averaging 25 to 30 new COVID-19 patients per day, said UH president Dr. Cliff Megerian. 

If trends do not improve, the hospitals could be nearing capacity by the end of the year, Megerian said. 

“If we average the increase over the last month, we could see ourselves, by Christmastime, getting up to 800 patients, a four-fold increase, so obviously we’re hoping that does not happen,” he said. 

While there is sufficient capacity to treat patients across the Northeast Ohio health care systems for now, Boutros said, the three hospitals will work together on a surge plan, such as preparing buildings for overflow patients, if needed, in the coming weeks.  

Hospitals in Northeast Ohio generally have more capacity and beds than in other areas of the state, which why they have fared better than hospitals in other Ohio regions thus far, Cleveland Clinic officials said.  

However, there is growing concern about their capacity to treat the latest surge of new COVID-19 cases, Mihaljevic said, which is why the Clinic has temporarily postponed non-essential surgeries for the rest of the week. 

“That actually addresses a relatively small percentage of our services, but it is a significant, significant ability and opportunity for us to increase our hospital capacity,” he said. 

The hospitals are also seeing an increase in the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests, with nearly one out of four tests in the hospitals and emergency rooms coming back positive for COVID-19, Boutros said,

Copyright 2021 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.

Anna joined ideastream in 2019, where she reports on health news for WCPN and WVIZ in Cleveland. She has also served as an associate producer for NewsDepth. Before that, Anna was a 2019 Carnegie-Knight News21 fellow at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.