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Lumberton Hospital At Capacity As Delayed Medical Care And Delta Variant Cases Compound

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A hospital in Lumberton, N.C., is at maximum capacity for the second time this year.

UNC Health Southeastern was previously full in January because of a surge in COVID-19 patients. This time COVID patients associated with the highly contagious delta variant are increasing, but so are patients with other health conditions.

In the past week, the number of COVID patients at the local medical center has gone from approximately 7 to 29. Of those patients, 27 are unvaccinated.

UNC Health Southeastern Vice President Lori Dove says her hospital is also seeing lots of patients who have delayed getting medical care.

"That's all because of going back to COVID. People were concerned about reaching out to medical care, and so they didn't. And know it's exacerbated to a point where they have to come in and be admitted as an inpatient," said Dove.

With staffing at the hospital tight, the medical center has implemented pay raises in an effort to increase retention.

Delayed Care Meets Delta Variant Uptick

Across the county, the COVID-19 comeback across the U.S. is putting pressure on hospitals at a time when some of them are busy just trying to catch up on surgeries and other procedures that were put on hold during the pandemic.

In July, some hospitals reported record or near-record patient volumes. But even for those that aren’t, this round of the pandemic is proving tougher in some ways, hospital and health officials said. As the Associated Press reports, staff members are worn out, and finding traveling nurses to boost their ranks can be tough.

"I really think of it as a war and how long can you stay on the front line,” said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians earlier in July. “And how many times do you want to go back for another tour of duty. Eventually you just don’t want to do it."

Also, many hospitals were busy even before the surge began, dealing with a backlog of cancer screenings, operations and other procedures that were put off during the winter surge to free up space and staff members, according to health care leaders.

A 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation pollfound that nearly half of American adults (48%) say they or someone in their household delayed medical care because of the pandemic. Eleven percent of those respondents said their family member’s condition got worse as a result of postponing or skipping medical care.

"Eventually you have to pay the piper, and those things have now built up," said Dr. James Lawler of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

The fear now at some hospitals is that they will have to postpone non-COVID-19 care again — and risk the potential health consequences for patients.

WUNC's Laura Pellicer contributed to this report.

Celeste Gracia covers the environment for WUNC. She has been at the station since September 2019 and started off as morning producer.
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