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'Concerned and disappointed': Charlotte hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients. Doctors say it's preventable

Novant Health, Atrium Health and CaroMont Health said they are all nearing or at capacity as the vast majority of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Three of Charlotte's largest hospital systems held a joint news conference Thursday to discuss challenges facing health care providers due to the surge in hospitalizations linked to COVID-19. 

The key takeaway from health care experts is hospitals are nearing or at capacity with a growing number of unvaccinated patients. 

"Quite frankly, beds are scarce. We are running short on resources," Dr. Sid Fletcher, senior vice president and chief clinical officer of Novant Health, said. "We are at or nearing capacity at all of our facilities, we're very challenged and we are going to need the community's help." 

Fletcher said Atrium, Novant and CaroMont have a total of 933 COVID-19 patients in the Charlotte area. Of those patients, 22% are in the ICU. The overwhelming majority, 92%, are unvaccinated. Fletcher said 97% of patients on ventilators are unvaccinated. 

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"The burden of COVID on our health care system is being brought by unvaccinated individuals," Dr. Katie Passaretti with Atrium Health said.

The hospitals have the ability to make more space and unlike at the beginning of the pandemic, have the personal protective equipment needed. But staffing is short, and health care workers are exhausted. 

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"The hospitals are backed up," Fletcher said. "Emergency room and other patients trying to receive care, we are very challenged by that."

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Fletcher went on to say front-line health care workers are frustrated by what they believe is a preventable surge in hospitalizations. On Thursday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported nearly 3,800 COVID-19 hospitalizations, just 200 short of the all-time high. 

"Concerned and disappointed," Fletcher said. "Disappointment comes from teams that are weary, they're tired, there's less staff working more hours. [They've] been at this 18 months now, to see it happen when it's preventable, with some incredibly helpful and very highly effective vaccines that are just not being taken."

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Health officials said the COVID-19 patients they're seeing are younger and it's particularly heartbreaking because they believe much of it is preventable.

"We are strained," said Dr. Todd Davis with CaroMont Health. "Health care resources, like all other resources, are [strained]. Staff is tired, we're trying to help but we would like the community to start helping themselves, too."

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There has also been some vaccine hesitancy among health care workers. All three hospital systems put approaching deadlines in place for all employees to have the shots. Resistance could lead to even more staffing issues.

"We are seeing some resignations the majority of those are not really related to vaccinations," Fletcher said. "We've had a limited number that was directly related to the vaccinations. We do have some medical and faith-based exemptions."

Atrium and CaroMont did not comment on staffing concerns after the vaccine mandate deadline passes.

As Labor Day weekend approaches, health officials are stressing vaccination and masking. 

"Wear a mask do what you can to prevent getting sick yourself and potentially spreading to others," Passaretti said. "Reconsider travel if you are unvaccinated and high risk."

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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