Clark County hospitals are still struggling to meet the demands brought on by the pandemic, and specifically the surge in omicron cases. That was the message physicians and officials from the county’s hospitals delivered to the Clark County Board of Health Wednesday morning.
“We’ve been at capacity every day during this surge,” said Dr. Raymond Lee, an emergency medicine physician and interim chief medical officer at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. “We worry about having enough beds and staff to take care of everyone. Every day we plan to make sure we can meet the needs of frontline caregivers and the community.”
The hospital representatives were at the meeting to address concerns about policies criticized by some of the board members, especially Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien. Quiring O’Brien has been a vocal critic of Public Health and area hospitals for not doing more to promote alternative therapeutic treatments like ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine and vitamin supplements. She also previously said vaccines and monoclonal antibodies shouldn’t be the only options promoted on the Public Health website.
In August, the FDA, announced the first approval of a COVID-19 vaccine. “The vaccine has been known as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, and will now be marketed as Comirnaty, for the prevention of COVID-19 in individuals 16 years of age and older,” the FDA said. The Moderna vaccine was authorized on Jan. 31, which will be marketed as Spikevax, for those age 18 and older.
Merck, which manufactures ivermectin, issued a statement in February 2021 saying the company’s analysis found no potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19 in pre-clinical studies of the drug, no meaningful evidence in treating patients with COVID-19 disease, and cited concerns over a lack of safety data in the majority of studies.
According to Public Health Director Dr. Alan Melnick, the most recent report showed 96 percent of the county’s hospital beds were full, and 94 percent of intensive care beds were full. Melnick also said 35 percent of ICU patients have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are suspected of having the virus.
Lee said hospital capacity issues have been exacerbated by staffing shortages, with 10 to 20 workers calling in sick daily. As a result, emergency department wait times have increased and close to 30 percent of ER beds are occupied by patients waiting to be admitted to the hospital.
Dr. Alfred Seekamp, chief medical officer at Vancouver Clinic, said the relentlessness of COVID-19 has been “crushing” for care providers.
“I have seen the medical community valiantly fight against this global pandemic to keep our community safe. I’ve seen things in caregivers’ faces and in their eyes I never thought I would see in my career,” he said.
The sheer volume of patients coming in day after day, and the need to care for those patients, has been overwhelming, Seekamp added. He said caregivers are seeing patients who are sick and dying from “a disease that could have been prevented had they been vaccinated or embraced simple public health measures.”
“All of us as physicians took a solemn oath to first do no harm and we took that oath seriously,” he said.
Jon Hersen, president of Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, said he came to the meeting with two requests: first, that the board members remember their words and actions “directly influence and impact the lives and well-being of our community,” and second, the board fully support continuing efforts to vaccinate, continue to support mask guidelines and promote only proven therapeutics.
All of the hospital representatives urged Public Health and the Board of Health to support wearing masks, getting vaccines and promoting proven therapeutics.
Mark Mantei, CEO of Vancouver Clinic, said the board hasn’t always been supportive of hospital efforts.
“Many Board of Health meetings turned into unproductive debates that fueled distrust toward the public health system, doctors and hospitals who have worked so hard to protect our community,” Mantei said. “It’s not too late to correct that.”
The full meeting can be viewed at www.cvtv.org.
By law, the Board of Health is composed of the Clark County Council members. During their county council meeting afterward, councilors discussed the upcoming Feb. 1 public hearing on a mini-initiative calling for an ordinance to ban all “discriminatory mandates, orders or compulsory requirements” in Clark County such as mask mandates and COVID-19 vaccination requirements. The ordinance would apply to all businesses, government agencies, educational institutions, religious, corporate and private organizations in the county. Those violating the ordinance could face fines or permit denials, including land-use permits.
The council agreed to provide initiative organizer Rob Anderson five minutes to present the initiative. The council also voted in favor of limiting public comments to two minutes, instead of the three minutes typically allowed. In previous meetings, some callers have continued to speak after their time limit was up. To avoid this happening, the council will cut off the microphone once the two-minute time limit is reached. Both votes were 3-1 with Councilors Gary Medvigy, Karen Bowerman and Temple Lentz in favor and Quiring O’Brien opposed.