By Nathan Ham
Hospital doctors, nurses and staff members gathered outside of Watauga Medical Center on Thursday morning to speak to community members about the dire conditions that exist for COVID-19 patients and encourage everyone to get vaccinated to fight this terrible virus.
The care vigil was also live-streamed on Facebook for those that could not be there or want to watch at a later time. Speakers at the event included Dr. Lisa Kaufmann (Inpatient Physician Group), Dr. Kevin Wolfe (Pulmonologist), Dr. Beverly Womack (AppFamily Medicine), Dr. Jennifer Nelson (Emergency Department), Jimmy Phillips (Respiratory Therapist), Amy Hempfling (Nurse Leader) and Melanie Childers (Spiritual Care).
Speakers talked about not only the struggles that patients go through dealing with the illness but also how hard it is on them personally to witness people having such a hard time battling COVID-19.
“As a nurse, our goal is to aid in healing and supporting the patient during an illness. COVID-19, the Delta variant in particular, has made any type of healing for a nurse feel absolutely impossible. We come to work and we are tackled by COVID. Patients come in extremely sick from the virus,” Hempfling said. “They come to us in ICU maxed out on any type of oxygenation possible before intubation. Many times before having to intubate them we give them an opportunity to speak to their family. When they speak to their family, I many times fear that it will be their last spoken words. This has rang true many many times.”
Jimmy Phillips, who has been a respiratory therapist for 35 years, says he has never seen patients as sick as they are now coming in from COVID-19.
“I care about all my patients, my coworkers, my family, and the community that I work and live in. This virus has taken a toll on almost everyone in one way or another. This is not a political virus, it is very real and it is here in our community, it is being spread and unfortunately, many people are dying from it,” Phillips said.
The Delta variant has also brought about greater fears of infection for pregnant women and younger children.
“When COVID first came here, we were not sure what COVID would do to pregnant women and children. We were hopeful that it wouldn’t affect pregnant women in a worse way. The Delta variant is here and we know that it is very dangerous for women in the pregnant and postpartum period,” said Dr. Beverly Womack, who has spent most of her career working with pregnant women as an OBGYN specialist.
Melanie Childers is the Director of Spiritual Care for ARHS. She talked about sitting with patients who are faced with the reality of having infected other people around them.
“I am accustomed to working with families through suffering in death. But never in my 23 years have I encountered anything as horrific as the last 10 months,” she said. “We see members of the same family or the same faith community hospitalized simultaneously, yet still isolated from each other. I sit with patients who realize they unintentionally infected their parents or grandchildren with the virus.”
As of Wednesday, there are 156 active COVID-19 cases in Watauga County, according to AppHealthCare’s COVID-19 Dashboard. Appalachian Regional Healthcare System reported 18 patients hospitalized on August 31 and 17 of those patients were unvaccinated. Five patients, all unvaccinated, were on ventilators Tuesday.
In another video posted by ARHS on Monday, two nurses, Amy Hempfling and Michele Baldwin talked about having to intubate patients and experiencing the sadness that comes with that for some patients who are never able to get off the ventilator that is breathing for them.
Hospitalizations are increasing locally and throughout North Carolina. Vaccinations have proven to be the first line of defense to keep people out of the hospital, even with breakthrough cases of COVID-19.
“We are concerned about the increasing trends we are continuing to see and want to urge everyone to help us control this virus to a manageable level. This pandemic has shown us that we are all connected. We all need each other. When we are in this type of response mode, we need everyone to take actions to help us get to a better place. We urge anyone who is unvaccinated to not wait and get a vaccine today. The vaccines are working like they should and helping prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death. We care deeply about our community and don’t want to see anyone experience hardship or loss due to this virus,” said Jennifer Greene, the Health Director at AppHealthCare.
AppHealthCare offers COVID-19 vaccines by walk-in or appointment Monday through Friday. Walk-in hours for vaccines are 1-4 pm. If you choose to walk in for a vaccine, you may have to wait. In order to lessen your wait time, please schedule an appointment. To schedule an appointment, call (828) 795-1970.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System also offers vaccines at two different locations: AppFamily Medicine in Boone (828-386-2222). Appointment preferred Wednesdays, 3:30-6 pm and Saturdays, 8:30-1 am. Baker Center for Primary Care in Linville (828-737-7711). Appointment preferred Thursdays, 10 am – 4 pm and Saturdays, 8:30-11 am.
AppHealthCare offers drive-thru testing Monday through Friday 8:30-10 am at each clinic location. No appointment is needed and testing is free. Learn more about testing at AppHealthCare’s website.