Some of the 300 Delaware National Guard members assisting with the state's COVID-19 response are working at Beebe Healthcare in Lewes. John Carney issued an emergency order Jan. 3 in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the state, which included assigning Guard members to hospitals.
So far, 22 Guard members have been assigned to Beebe. They are working at a variety of support jobs throughout the hospital including environmental and nutrition services, lift-team members and patient support.
Each member receives an orientation and protocol training, and is fitted with an N95 mask. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires N95 mask wearers to be fit tested to ensure a mask forms a tight seal on a wearer's face before using it in a workplace.
The 10-minute test includes seven exercises – such as deep breathing, talking, bending over and moving from side to side – to test the seal.
National Guard members are receiving fast-track training at Delaware Technical Community College in Dover to become certified nursing assistants. The normal 6- to 10-week course is being condensed to two weeks.
With record numbers of COVID-related hospital admissions, hospitals throughout the state are at or over 100 percent capacity. Late last week, ChristianaCare, Bayhealth, and TidalHealth Nanticoke issued crisis-level notices as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations set new records.
Nearly 40 percent of patients are COVID-19 positive.
At Beebe, the situation is critical and can change at any moment, said Dr. David Tam, Beebe Healthcare president and chief executive officer. Beebe recently reported its highest number of COVID-related cases at 76.
"Right now, it's more difficult than ever to deliver healthcare," Tam said. "Our emergency departments and hospital are past capacity. We are making operational adjustments to keep up with the growing demand for healthcare in Sussex County, but this is not sustainable."
On Jan. 13, Beebe Healthcare started postponing all nonemergency procedures and taking measures so staff and beds can be reassigned for inpatient care.
“COVID right now is challenging, to say the least,” said Dr. Paul Cowan, Beebe Healthcare emergency medicine specialist and Lewes Board of Health chair. “The Omicron variant is ravaging the country, ravaging the state. Our positivity rates are through the roof.”
Speaking at the Jan. 4 board of health meeting, Cowan said, “If we had no COVID patients in the hospital, we’d be busy but not over capacity. We are certainly over capacity now.”