It has been a year like no other at Mount Nittany Medical Center, as the health system has seen more than 1,100 people hospitalized because of COVID-19.
The center’s executive vice president of system development and chief strategy officer, Tom Charles, discussed the pandemic’s impact on the hospital, its employees and the community during Tuesday’s meeting with Centre County commissioners.
“It has been quite the year for the health system, navigating through all of this, and at the same time, managing the scope of services that we provide to the community on a regular basis,” he said during the meeting, which happened to fall in the midst of National Nurses Week, which is recognized May 6-12, as well as Mount Nittany Health Week (May 9-15). “We have been so proud of 2,300-plus staff across the health system and the work that they have done over this extraordinary year; it has been remarkable to respond to the pandemic the way that they have, and also keep the services going that the community depends on every day.”
Charles said the number of COVID-related hospitalizations started to climb last fall, reaching a peak in December with 246 new hospitalizations.
“(It is) a large number of people, largely people from the community — this has not been contained to one particular area. It has been the result of generalized spread across the community,” said Charles, regarding the number of people hospitalized by the health system.
After dipping down to 96 hospitalizations in February, the numbers again rose in March (124) and April (152) and, Charles said, “we found ourselves challenged again with the COVID census in the month of April.”
This month, the numbers have begun to come back down, with 31 new hospitalizations as of May 11. Charles said he hopes the trend continues, because “we are all desirous to get this back down and we can have as much normalcy as we possibly can.”
The average number of people in the hospital because of COVID, per day, is currently in the mid-teens, and Charles said “that is a good sign and we are hoping to see those levels come down further.”
The average age of people hospitalized by COVID-19 has also come down since earlier in the pandemic, he said.
“It was running very consistently around 70, and we have seen that the average age has dropped down to the mid- to lower 60s,” said Charles, although he noted the average age is again closer to 70 for the month of May.
Still, said Charles, “The pattern has been a slightly younger population that has been hospitalized as we moved though the pandemic.”
“It is good to look back at where we have been on this journey,” he added, pointing to the seven-day average of new cases in Centre County since August.
He highlighted four waves of new county COVID cases — early fall 2020, Thanksgiving, Christmas and then again after the new year.
December marked the highest number of new cases with 2,314. He said after the new year, and on through May, the number of new cases remained elevated, but he said it is now on a downward trend.
“We have been riding the wave with the number of new cases in the county. We are back on the way down again,” he said.
“I think the numbers continue to drop, so that is encouraging, getting ourselves back down to point that we reached previously.”
In regards to vaccinations, he said the health system has injected and has scheduled more than 42,000 doses.
“We have been delighted to lead the COVID vaccine distribution in the county. Our team has done a tremendous job of getting individuals scheduled and vaccinated,” said Charles.
He said the team has seen demand for the vaccine “soften,” a trend nationwide, which is “a cause for concern.”
“Everybody who has the opportunity to get vaccinated, it is safe, we encourage you to do that,” said Charles.
Commissioner Mark Higgins said that with the lower demand for the injections, it is easier than ever to find a vaccine.
“So, at this point there is no waiting, or you get yourself an appointment in the next couple of days,” said Higgins.
Commissioner Mike Pipe said that he appreciates the efforts of the health system as the nation continues to fight the virus.
“It has been said that we are at the bottom of the sixth inning or the top of the seventh inning, and we are close to the seventh inning stretch, but we are still not out of this quite yet. But thanks for the update, and we appreciate all that you are doing,” said Pipe.
Commissioner Steven Dershem, like the other commissioners, thanked the healthcare workers who are on the front lines “during some very trying times.”
“I want to give you a big high-five and thank you. As we celebrate Nurses Week, give my best to everyone at Mount Nittany Health to continue to move forward,” said Dershem.
“Let’s get to that bright light and get through this all together.”
This story appears in the May 13-19 edition of The Centre County Gazette.