As COVID-19 cases fall, other  hospital admissions remain high

GMH: Guam Memorial Hospital is seen Oct. 17 in Tamuning. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

While the number of new COVID-19 cases trends downward, as do the number of related hospitalizations, the number of non-COVID-19 patients at the island's only public hospital remains high. 

Guam Memorial Hospital Authority Administrator Lillian Perez-Posadas stated Tuesday night during a board meeting that GMH had about 160 non-COVID-19 patients. 

"We've been averaging 13 to 16 (intensive care unit) hospitalizations toward non-COVID. So it does take off our resources and our bed capacity with regards to the high acuity," Perez-Posadas said. 

There were 12 COVID-19 admissions reported at GMH on Tuesday night. Two of the patients were in the ICU. There were seven more hospitalized at Guam Regional Medical City, making 19 total admitted with COVID-19. 

Reasons for non-COVID-19 admissions to the ICU and the telemetry unit at GMH vary, according to discussions at Tuesday's board meeting. Some of the causes include acute strokes, other infections, chronic conditions, end-stage renal disease and complications from diabetes. 

While COVID-19 cases may be receding, along with some pandemic-related restrictions, the effects of the disease can't be understated, neither in Guam nor the rest of the world.

In addition to the economic challenges, the pandemic has highlighted the overall health of the island, which has higher rates of comorbidities, such as diabetes and obesity, compared to the broader U.S. population.  

This past spike in COVID-19 cases not only came with knowledge that the more transmissible delta variant was on island, but that, at one point, more than half of recent COVID-19-related deaths were individuals who were pronounced dead on arrival at hospitals. It's possible most of them didn't even know they had the disease, according to health care officials.

A team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is in Guam to investigate these cases.

Janela Carrera, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health and Social Services, said the team is concerned primarily with the dead-on-arrival cases, but also is interested in the recent high incidence rate on island. 

"They're looking at our incidence rate, they're looking at comorbidities as well as any other types of trends that they may be able to discover along the way," Carrera said. "They're also looking at our lab for future expansion because that is something that we want to do here on Guam."

The CDC team has been working closely with territorial epidemiologist Ann Pobutsky and has had meetings with officials at GMH and GRMC, according to Carrera. DPHSS also had been trying to connect the team with U.S. Naval Hospital Guam, although Carrera did not know if the meeting has taken place. 

The team was assigned to be here for three to four weeks, but DPHSS requested the team stay longer. 

"I believe they're in the phase of trying to wrap up their investigation and finalize their report. But, at this point, we still could use them and there's still a lot more work that we think that they can do for us," Carrera said. "And also, I think there's still a lot more that they're digging up and taking a deeper look into. Because there's some unique information they can look into here on Guam that could be useful for them when they go back to the states. As much as we can learn from them, I think they can also learn from us." 

Traveling staff still needed

Meanwhile, GMH continues to rely on traveling staff to round out its personnel needs as it addresses both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. Most of that travel staff is made up of nurses, whose agencies are paid much higher rates compared to local nurses. GMHA hopes to be reimbursed for those costs by the federal government.  

"As much as we want to curtail our reliance and our dependence on these staff nurses, unfortunately, because our census continues to be high, we are utilizing travel nurses, both in the COVID and the non-COVID areas," Perez-Posadas said Tuesday. 

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