Valley Health puts “crisis measures” in place at hospitals, including War Memorial

COVID surge fills ICU at Winchester Medical, forces limits on surgeries & hospital visits

by Kate Shunney

Officials with the Valley Health System, which operates War Memorial Hospital in Berkeley Springs, have announced several new steps they are taking to protect medical resources amid a surge in regional COVID-19 cases.

On Wednesday evening, a Valley Health spokeswoman said their facilities, including War Memorial Hospital, would start postponing elective and non-essential surgeries. Patient visitation at their six hospitals is now restricted to only end-of-life cases, those with disabilities, or specific cases involving infants, new mothers, or those needing transport or help to enter or leave the hospitals. In all cases, visitors to the hospitals must be masked at all times. Visitation rules can be found here.

“In the last several weeks, Valley Health has seen an increase in disruptive visitor behavior, including refusal to abide by masking requirements while visiting,” said a hospital spokeswoman.

More ICU beds have been added at Winchester Medical Center to treat “severely ill patients needing care.” All of the hospital’s available ICU beds were full last Friday.

“Our caregivers have worked double shifts, nights, weekends and holidays to save patients and fight COVID-19 in our community. They have shown remarkable resiliency, but they, like all of us, are growing tired. We are asking our community to pull together and help end the spread of this virus,” said Mark Nantz, President and CEO of Valley Health.

Valley Health’s six hospitals are currently treating 140 patients for COVID-19, about 85% of whom are unvaccinated. According to Iyad Sabbagh, MD, Chief Physician Executive, the most severely ill patients are unvaccinated, underscoring the importance of COVID-19 vaccination.

Hospital officials said they are encountering instances where patients are lying about their vaccination status for fear the hospital won’t treat them for COVID if they are unvaccinated.

“Our job is to care for every individual who comes to us,” Sabbagh said. “While we want the public to know that vaccination is the best way to stop the spread of COVID, we also want them to know that we’re here to care for them, regardless of their vaccination status. It is our mission as healthcare providers.”

Valley Health has required their employees to become vaccinated against the virus, and company officials said 97% of their caregivers have been vaccinated or been granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons.

“The health system has been very successful in recruiting new staff to fill vacancies left by employees who chose not to comply with the vaccination requirement. Valley Health has seen an increase in new hires, and overall has had a net gain of staff since announcing the policy in July,” they said.

“Our challenge is not staffing due to our COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Our challenge is the sheer number of severely ill COVID-19 patients presenting for care at our hospitals,” said Nantz.