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Oklahoma health leaders urge vaccinations as hospitals battle staff shortages

Posted at 6:18 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 00:26:32-04

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma's top health leaders are once again urging citizens to get vaccinated as hospitals battle a staff shortage amid a COVID surge.

In an update from the state department of health on Thursday, Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said nearly 94 percent of hospitalizations in the past 30 days were in those unvaccinated. And 96 percent of those who died from COVID didn't have the vaccine.

Reed said 86 fully vaccinated Oklahomans have died from COVID. Of those who died, he said 80 percent had known comorbidities and nearly 85 percent were in the 65 and older population.

“Vaccinations have again proven to be the best protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death," Reed said.

Hospitals are seeing high numbers of patients once again as COVID cases surge, but a big problem is the shortage of nurses.

“Our hospitals, anecdotally, are reporting, even those with staffing contracts, that they may be expecting let's say 10 nurses and maybe four show up," said Patti Davis, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Hospital Association. "So just like day-to-day, the amount of nursing staff at bedside will determine how many patients can be safely taken care of.”

David said they’d like to be able to utilize nursing students and retired nurses once again. Meanwhile, Reed said getting specialty nurses isn’t easy.

"This is about people that are specially trained to help in critical care with critical care patients," Reed said. "So it’s not quite as easy as shifting around and finding the right nurses.”

As hospitals wait to see if there will be a post-Labor Day surge, they’ll have tough decisions to make, like whether to slow down elective surgeries.

“We’ve got hospitals, unfortunately, boarding patients in hallways," Davis said. "We know that we’ve got hospitals using PACU's for holding patients. And a variety of things they’ve done, including shutting down key services to make more room for COVID patients.”

Doctors also discussed when kids under the age of 12 could be eligible to receive the vaccine. They believe that could be either later this year or early next year.

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