The chief medical officer of a community health system with 16 Oklahoma locations, Variety Care, is asking Oklahomans to help reduce the strain on health care providers.
Variety Care has experienced a swell of calls and sick patients in recent weeks, according to Dr. Lydia Nightingale.
The number of phone calls to Variety Care nearly doubled last month. In July, Nightingale said their call center received about 45,000 calls. In August, it received about 80,000.
“We know that that demand is there, and again, patients don’t have anywhere else to go. Urgent cares are full, (emergency rooms) are full, other clinics are full, and we understand that our part is to do as much as we can. But there is a limit to how much we can do,” Nightingale said.
The community health centers offer a range of medical services, including urgent care, family medicine, dental and pharmaceuticals. Recently, workers focused on preventative care have helped manage the crowd of patients complaining of an illness, according to Nightingale.
“We actually have our family medicine and our pediatric providers—they’re seeing additional patients,” Nightingale said.
The strain on Variety Care is similar to the crowding at hospital systems like Integris, OU Health, Mercy and SSM St. Anthony. The four systems reported on Friday all of their staffed ICU beds are occupied.
Unless the surge in demand wanes, Variety Care will have to prioritize its sickest patients because of a lack of staffing.
“We’ve actually really had to try to figure out how to triage patients appropriately, much like hospitals are having to do as well because we’re wanting to really put our focus on sick patients and ensuring they can be seen,” Nightingale said. “At some point, there are not enough people to see everyone that’s sick.”
Nightingale said she is pleading with the public to help lower the number of patients seeking immediate care. She said managing the pandemic through masking and vaccines is an effective way to reduce hospitalizations and of virus transmission.
“Anything that you can do to decrease the stress on the health care system is going to help as we try to move forward and through this pandemic,” she said.