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Hamilton County Mayor Coppinger calls for nurses, caregivers to help local hospitals

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(Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

UPDATE (Friday, December 11th):

Hamilton County officials updated the number of volunteers Friday, saying 88 people have now volunteered to help out.

If you can help: Please call 423-209-5400 to reach out to the Hamilton County EMA Director Chris Adams, who can put volunteers in touch with people in different settings.

Depend on us to keep you posted.

UPDATE (Friday, December 4th):

Hamilton County Government announced that as of Friday, December 4th, 55 local healthcare professionals have volunteered.

Depend on us to keep you posted.

UPDATE (Wednesday, Nov. 25th):

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Hamilton County have reached an all-time high ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, this as the county's mayor is urging retired nurses and caregivers to step up so nurses who are on payroll can treat coronavirus patients.

On Wednesday, the Hamilton County Health Department reported a record 161 coronavirus hospitalizations. 83 of those are residents, and 30 patients are in the ICU, according to health officials.

The Health Department also reported eight new COVID-19 deaths among residents, raising the death toll to 148. Health officials also reported 246 new cases, and say 2,146 cases are considered active as of Wednesday.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger issued an urgent plea for all retired nurses and other caregivers to reach out to local hospitals to see about volunteering their services, as a way to help bear the heavy load and strain local healthcare workers are facing (scroll down to see the number to call to volunteer).

"We call on any person out there that’s retired – that’s a nurse or any kind of caregiver – that can help out in the hospitals. Not to help with COVID, but to free up the opportunities for nurses who could go and help with COVID, so we can have the opportunity to add more beds," Mayor Coppinger said at Wednesday morning's Hamilton County Commission meeting.

"If you’re willing to serve as a nurse, not in a COVID-19 situation, but to go in and backfill so that someone that is on the payroll so to speak can go serve COVID patients," he added. "We have bed capacity, but it also takes nurses this is something we’re running short of not just in Hamilton County, but throughout the state, throughout the country,"

During an interview this week, Dr. Mark Anderson, CHI Memorial Infectious Disease Specialist, says some of the short staffing is due to the health of front line workers themselves. He added COVID-19 patients are spilling out of space that used to be enough.

"We sort of exceeded the numbers where we can keep it contained in one small area in the hospital," Dr. Anderson explained.

It's hard to know the full picture inside our hospitals. It's been almost a month since the county stopped sending out daily updates letting the public know how many ICU and hospital flood beds were available. A spokesperson said the numbers were "misleading" due to their constantly fluctuating nature.

"We're nowhere nearing a crisis point whatsoever, but to be proactive," Mayor Coppinger said.

In a group statement, all three Hamilton County hospitals said this extra staffing pool will be used for hospitals to expand capacity in anticipation of the projected rise in community infections due to holiday gatherings.

If you can help: Please call 423-209-5400 to reach out to the Hamilton County EMA Director Chris Adams, who can put volunteers in touch with people in different settings.

UPDATE 1: We checked with Adams, who says these volunteers will be paid. He says each hospital will have a different rate for different positions.

"The level of pay will be determined by the medical facility these individuals decide to contract with," Adams tells us. "Emergency Management will establish a personnel list in order to convey contact information, license, or certification levels to the medical facilities. The medical facilities will then reach out to these individuals. Each facility has its own respective Human Resource Policies and pay ranges. The medical professional will be able to choose the best option and facility."

Adams asks volunteers to email hamiltoncountyeoc@hamiltontn.gov. He says his office will respond with questions, and then pass along the information to medical facilities.

UPDATE 2: We reached out to the three major Chattanooga-area hospital systems for comment on this story. They sent the following joint statement:

"CHI Memorial, Erlanger Health System and Parkridge Health System are currently adequately staffed to manage patients coming into our facilities to be treated for COVID-19. As we anticipate the projected rise in community infections due to holiday gatherings and more time spent indoors, we are proactively discussing contingencies that would allow our hospitals to appropriately expand capacity and staffing."

We reached back out this afternoon to the three major hospitals for more information about staffing. We specifically asked about sickness and quarantining among staff, how many available staffed beds there are right now, and how many unstaffed beds are available that could be assisted with additional staff.

They released the following joint statement:

"All three health systems want to reassure the public that we each currently have adequate staffing to take care of all the patients in our hospitals. As you know from the Health Department’s daily report, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been steadily increasing for the past several weeks. In anticipation that the trend will continue, we are all reviewing our surge plans to ensure we remain ready and able to provide medical care to our community. Mayor Coppinger’s call for additional staffing will help provide a pool of resources should there come a time when the hospitals are in need of more staff. All our hospitals remain open and ready to care for anyone in our community who needs medical treatment."

It's not just Hamilton County that has seen a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations. Data from the Tennessee Department of Health has shown a steady rise across the state from around 1,400 hospitalizations at the beginning of November to more than 2,100 today.

Amid the surge in hospitalizations, Vanderbilt Health on Wednesday shared an "open letter to all Tennesseans" from leaders at nine health systems and providers, saying that they "urge all Tennesseans in the strongest terms to fight community spread and flatten the curve of this virus. We will accomplish this by limiting the size of formal and informal gatherings and by wearing masks. These are science-based and proven measures that will slow the spread of the virus."

Vanderbilt says today, there are more than 700 COVID patients in Middle Tennessee hospitals, the most since the pandemic began in March and a 72 percent increase since the beginning of the month.

"If this trend continues, our hospital systems could soon be overwhelmed, and that would compromise the ability to serve all patients, not just those with COVID-19. Currently, hospitals are experiencing staff shortages due to both the rising volumes of patients needing care and to the absence of medical professionals who have contracted the virus or are in quarantine because of a COVID-19 exposure. The cause of most of these exposures are coming from outside the hospital - from the rampant community spread of the virus in our state," the letter reads.

"We must act, and act now to protect hospital capacity and to support those who have been on the front lines of this fight for months - our medical personnel, first responders and essential workers. We are Tennesseans. In the most challenging times, we have always answered the call to act. And once again, by working together, we will get through this for our neighbors, friends, and family," the letter concludes.

You can read their full statement on their Facebook page here.

This is a developing story and will be updated as we learn more.

READ MORE: TN hospitals discuss having COVID-19 positive doctors, nurses treat coronavirus patients

UPDATE (Tuesday, Nov. 24th):

For the second time in less than a week, the Hamilton County Health Department has reported five more resident COVID-19 deaths over a 24-hour period. Health officials also reported 264 new cases.

According to data shared on the Health Department's website on Tuesday, three of the five residents were in the 71-80 age range, and the other two were 81 or older. Among them were two men and three women.

The county's death toll has now risen to 140.

RELATED: Days before Thanksgiving, dozens of Hamilton County residents in the hospital with COVID-19

Just last Friday, the Health Department reported another five deaths, also among senior members of our community.

We reached out to the Health Department today to ask whether the recent deaths happened at nursing homes or assisted living facilities in our area. We also asked for more information about the residents, and whether they had any comorbidities.

We'll update our story with what we find out.

As of Tuesday, the Hamilton County Health Department reports the county has seen a total of 16,945 cases. 2,186 of those cases are considered active.

The Health Department says 155 people are currently in county hospitals, 74 of the residents. 30 people are in the ICU, battling the virus.

See our prior story below.

ORIGINAL STORY (Friday, Nov. 20):

The Hamilton County Health Department reported five additional COVID-19 deaths on Friday, marking 11 deaths since Monday and raising the county's death toll to 134.

According to data shared on the Health Department's website, three of the five residents were in the 71-80 age range, and the other two were 81 or older. Among them were three men and two women.

The Health Department has not released info on any potential comorbidities these residents may have had.

As we have seen throughout this pandemic, senior members of our community have been dealt an especially heavy blow by the virus - but young individuals are not immune. Health officials say the virus has claimed the lives of three residents under the age of 20. The Health Department reported on Wednesday that a girl between the ages of 11 and 20 had died of the virus.

COUNTY COVID-19 CASES RISING

Health officials also reported an additional 231 cases on Friday, raising Hamilton County's total to 16,169 since mid-March.

These new cases continue a disturbing upward trend in cases in the county. Just yesterday, the Health Department reported 328 new cases, the highest single-day increase to date.

The county's active case count has now reached a record-breaking 2,208, an increase of nearly a thousand since the beginning of the month, according to the Health Department's data.

RELATED: Hamilton Co. mask mandate to extend through January 15th, says Mayor Coppinger

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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