Local Sentara front-line caregivers discuss issues, answer questions as COVID-19 surge contributes to increase in patient volume

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Posted at 9:44 AM, Sep 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-15 05:08:06-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Local Sentara front-line caregivers spoke Tuesday morning as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to surge.

Doctors and nurses discussed making the rounds in the ICUs that are crammed full of terribly sick COVID-19 patients.

"The striking thing for me is how young they are - 30- and 40-year-olds," said Bea Barajas-Williams, a respiratory therapist at Sentara Virginia Beach General.

They say 18 months ago they were treating the elderly for COVID; now, they are working to save normally perfectly healthy individuals as the Delta variant is overtaking their bodies.

"They require 100% oxygen. They can no longer get up and go use the restroom or brush their teeth. They need help - that is not something a 40-year-old is used to," said Barajas-Willams.

Doctors told News 3 nearly all those who are being treated share something in common.

"The majority that are coming in are unvaccinated, around 80 to 90%," said Dr. Mike Jenco, chief medical officer with Sentara Obici.

Five hundred and thirty-eight patients are in intensive care units across Virginia. All 12 Sentara hospitals say the ICUs are at capacity, with more patients than beds.

"We got patients in every little nook and cranny you can think of," said Claresa Sanchez, patient care supervisor at Sentara Virginia Beach General.

Doctors say patients are staying in the hospital longer and longer because they need intensive treatment.

"You're talking about a month to two months in the hospital dealing with this illness," Barajas-Willams.

The emotion of treating the sickest of patients is taking a toll on these front-line heroes, as well as the dreaded conversations.

"We are exhausted," said Lucy Vinson with Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. "We have to ask, 'Do you want us to do chest compressions?' or, 'Do you want us to put you on a ventilator?' or, 'Do you want to give up the fight?'"

Related: ECMO machine at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital treating the sickest of COVID-19 patients

These men and women taking the oath to care for patients no matter their vaccination status, pleading with the public waiting to get the shot.

"We have a number of unnvaccinated folks as they are getting intubated, and when they come off the ventilator begging to get the vaccine because how bad this illness is and how much it's affected them," said Dr. Jenco.

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