RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – COVID-19 hospitalizations in Rutherford County are prompting leaders to develop contingency plans for a worst-case scenario.

“For the immediate future, my focus is preparing for the worst,” said Ascension St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. David Sellers. “I’m preparing for more numbers to come in, preparing for maybe some of my physicians going down with this illness as well, since we’re exposed to it all the time. I mean, that’s just a reality that can happen.”

He says the overwhelmingly large majority of people who are admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated. The hospital has been at capacity in its critical care unit where about 60% of patients have COVID-19.

“It’s very sad to see that because this can be preventable if people would just get their vaccine,” said Sellers. “We have been at capacity this last week in our critical care unit. What it does is it causes us to have to ship patients elsewhere, or worse, patients coming from other facilities that are relying on our hospital because they’re in a small area, like a rural area outside of Murfreesboro, they can’t come to our facility, because we can’t accept them because we’re on diversion is what we call it when we don’t have the capacity anymore. Those smaller facilities end up having to call around and just try to find a facility who can take care of their patient.”

He said his staff was being stretched working extra shifts to accommodate the capacity.

“I would say that it causes a decrease in morale. We’ve never seen this amount of sickness in such a concentrated period of time. And I think any human being will be affected by that,” said Dr. Sellers. “We’re physicians so we’re used to seeing people who need help and maybe are not doing as well, but to see the numbers of people that are not doing well in such a short period of time, it has an emotional effect on most individuals.”

The other challenge is that COVID-19 patients can’t have visitors.

“That means that we have to take extra time to call their family members and to reassure their family members that their loved ones are being cared for, in a very good manner,” Dr. Sellers explains. “All of that adds, you know, time to your day when you have to work in that manner. And so it’s hard, I’m not going to paint a pretty picture about it. It’s very stressful on our team.”

That team is also working with COVID-19 patients who have been unlike the ones they had during earlier points in the pandemic.

“Generally a patient will come into the hospital and they are at a certain point of their illness and they may decline over several days, despite our treatment,” Dr. Sellers explained. “But, what we’re seeing on this way is the patients are declining at a faster rate. There’s something about this delta variant that is more aggressive than what we saw back in January. Also, the patients are younger.”

He says their average COVID-19 patient back in January was about 61 years old. Now they’re about 51. They are also seeing people who are getting very sick and are in their 30s and 40s with very few comorbidities.

“They don’t have diabetes, they don’t have hypertension, they may just have obesity,” said Dr. Sellers. “So, this time around, we are seeing a much more aggressive picture. And also, as I stated earlier, these are individuals who are by and large unvaccinated.”