WARREN COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Hospital staff in a rural Middle Tennessee community are feeling cautiously optimistic amid the downward trend of COVID-19 cases while hoping residents take lessons from the surge of the delta variant.

It’s been about three weeks since Ascension Saint Thomas River Park started to see declining numbers in their patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Right now they have three COVID patients at the hospital. None are on a ventilator and all of them are unvaccinated. During the previous two-month average, they had 18 COVID patients per day with six in the ICU. CEO Dale Humphrey said the majority of those patients who got severely sick or died from COVID at their hospital were unvaccinated.

“We’re cautiously optimistic, thrilled, But also, you know, we’re in a rural community that is slightly less vaccinated than the rest of the state from an average perspective,” said Humphrey. “We’re very hopeful in just seeing how the staff responded to the crisis, the extra workload.”

While a lot of their staff members stepped up to do even more during the surge, like healthcare facilities across the country, he said the stress proved to be too much for some workers.

“Staffing is difficult in all facilities and all healthcare facilities. I believe the pandemic has created a desire for some people to determine they would like to do something else. Not many, but a few,” said Humphrey.

He added that they’ve seen the pandemic bring out the best in people, but they also know that there’s an emotional and psychological toll to seeing people that are community members.

“The mother and her 24-year-old son that was on a ventilator in our ICU, the pregnant mom who lost her baby due the COVID was probably known by some of our staff, the 44-year-old gym owner, health fanatic in our community that got COVID and passed away,” Humphrey recalled. “Those things impact. There is a certain level of post-traumatic stress, you know, that comes from this.”

He said the hospital does have resources to help workers deal with the stress of the pandemic, which also created extra challenges for rural healthcare facilities. During the surge, there was nowhere to transport a lot of their patients outside of their system to Nashville, Cookeville, or Chattanooga. They had to work with their three regional facilities in Warren, White, and Cannon counties to maximize their resources.

There are only about a hundred active COVID-19 cases in Warren County right now, but Humphrey said the severity of the surge could’ve been prevented.

“We don’t ever want to be here again. We don’t need to get through this again, because much of this was preventable. Our community is wonderful. Being in a rural community, I have connections with the city and the county mayors, and the entire community. They really rallied around us, they tried to limit events so that we prevented the spread. But all in all, you know, a lot of this was preventable,” Humphreys said. “We knew something was coming, we started sounding the alarm. When we do that, trust your local health care providers. We’re telling you the truth, we care about you. We don’t want you to be in a situation that you don’t need to be in.”