Sussex County hospitals such as Bayhealth in Milford are at their 'high water' marks for COVID patients.

Bayhealth discusses Sussex County growth, COVID and staffing

Terry Rogers Headlines, Health

Sussex County hospitals such as Bayhealth in Milford are at their 'high water' marks for COVID patients.

Bayhealth Sussex Campus discussed COVID-19, staffing issues and the growth of Sussex County at a recent meeting

At a recent meeting of Milford Conversation, a group of organizations and businesses that gather each month to discuss the Milford area, Stacy Naylor, Physician Recruiter for Bayhealth, talked about how the medical facility had managed through the COVID-19 pandemic, Milford’s growth and staffing in their organization.

“Sussex County is the fastest growing county east of the Mississippi,” Naylor said. “We do a needs assessment every three years at Bayhealth and it looks at the community at various stages as well as demographics and the specialists you currently have. It is hugely growing.”

When asked about the ages of families moving in as there seemed to be a large influx of retired people, Naylor explained that there was a large mix. She stated that they are seeing a lot of military people, but after the pandemic began 18 months ago, they noticed a slight change in the demographic.

“Many companies have found that it is better to let employees work remotely,” Naylor said. “That means that if you lived just outside of New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles, or any other area with a high cost of living, you could now work anywhere. You will still be making that $300,000 or $400,000 salary, but you can sell your million dollar home and purchase a $200,000 home somewhere more rural where the taxes are lower. You are only giving up a higher cost of living, so we are seeing everything from the 23-year old single person to families to 70-year old retired people. It is definitely a mix.”

Bayhealth implemented a residency program this year, creating a learning institution at their two campuses. Naylor stated that there are still no medical schools in Delaware but the residency opened up more options to encourage doctors to come to the area. Internal and family medicine began July 1 and the residency is three years. Each year, a new class of doctors will begin residency and the hope is those doctors will choose to remain in the area.

“Many hospitals in this area are dealing with staffing shortages, but we have been incredibly fortunate,” Naylor said. “We have had some nursing losses and doctors who have moved from the area, but when I started about a year ago, we had 100 physicians in the medical group and now we have 120, so even with some of our losses, we have been able to grow through COVID. The main thing we have seen through the pandemic is that our staff is very tired. When we see our ED docs and nurses in the hallway, they are just exhausted. We still have a lot of support, but when you have been doing this day in and day out for 18 months, it takes a toll. In June and July, we saw our numbers going down and thought we were getting ahead of it, but now they are back up again.”

Naylor explained that the Kent campus has around 60 COVID patients while Sussex had around 30.

“People want to blame the beaches, the holiday, Firefly,” she said. “What it is, though, is that we get complacent. We start taking off our mask, we start getting a little closer, we start feeling comfortable and it just happens. It is hard to say what is the driving force. Even our doctors and infectious disease doctors, they can’t say with certainty.”

Deming asked if there had been changes to the visitation policy at the Bayhealth campuses and Naylor explained that the limit was still one visitor per day per patient and that the visitor must be listed as an approved visitor. When they arrive at the hospital, staff will require that they show identification or they will not be allowed to enter, even if they are on the list.

“We are not requiring all of our staff be vaccinated,” Naylor said. “Anyone who is not vaccinated must undergo weekly testing. They have an assigned time slot, and the test must be negative. We also have an app we can use to report symptoms or known exposures. So, if I get home and my son was exposed at school, I would call occupational health and they would tell me the protocol. If my son came home with the virus, they would have me work from home and I would test at the five-day mark. So, we have definite protocols in place.”

Naylor pointed out that Christiana Care came out with a hard line, requiring vaccination for all staff and any who refused would be terminated. She explained that the CEO of Bayhealth made it clear that he was not ready to do that with his staff. Naylor called it a proud moment for Bayhealth as it was often easier to go along with the “big guys” rather than stand against them, but the CEO of Bayhealth has always had the best interest of his staff at heart.

“We recently sought approval to build a stand-alone ED on Route 9 in Harbeson,” Naylor said. “Beebe contested it and we had to go back through the process, and it was approved. We have a similar facility in Smyrna with an ED and an outpatient center where you can get mammograms and other testing as well as primary care offices. The one in Harbeson will be similar to that.”

It was pointed out that it seemed as if hospitals were moving into each other’s territories, with billboards for Beebe in Milford and advertisements for Bayhealth in the beach area. Naylor explained that this was not unusual with healthcare and that the area medical facilities often worked together when it comes to patient care.

“Tidal Health in Seaford just closed one of their largest departments, the OB/GYN department,” Naylor said. “That means anyone who had planned to go there to have a baby was now scrambling to find another location. People in Seaford are now looking at Milford, Harrington and Dover for fetal and maternity care. Keep in mind that some of these people live close to the Maryland line, but insurance won’t allow them to go to Atlantic General or PRMC as it is out of their network. Jennersville Hospital, a small hospital with around 89 beds just closed up north. Some of those patients will funnel to Christiana Care which, in turn, can increase wait times there. That means some Christiana Care patients may shift to Bayhealth in Dover and increased wait times there could push people to Milford, so it is like a domino effect.”

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