Pella Regional Sign

The sign for Pella Regional Health Center as seen on Monday, June 14 2021.

Beginning on Sept. 16, the Pella Regional Health Center will temporarily close their Sully clinic on Thursdays until the end of October.

The decision comes as the hospital struggles with staffing at Pella Regional Walk-In Clinic, which is currently experiencing record high volumes of patients for upper respiratory illnesses — including COVID-19.

Dr. Craig Wittenberg, a Family Medicine Specialist for Pella Regional, said both the walk-in clinic and emergency department have experienced a surge of patients, approximately 120 patients every day.

Additionally, Wittenberg said around 30 to 40 people call in per day just for a COVID-19 test.

“Everything was pretty quiet over the summer, and then it kind of spiked up with this Delta variant,” Wittenberg said. “Hospitals have been busier, not necessarily busy like we were in November last year when everything kind of got out of control.”

Wittenberg said the restrictions haven’t changed much since last summer, with the hospital now allowing two visitors per patient. In more higher risk areas, such as the infusion center, only one guest is permitted with certain guidelines.

The Knoxville Hospital & Clinics have also maintained their restrictions per CDC guidelines.

“We have kept it the same, but we're always evaluating what those parameters are,” Kevin Stittsworth, Director of Foundation and Public Relations, said.

For the Pella Regional Health Center, the restrictions for guests include wearing a mask, staying in the patient's room, not walking around the floor, and ordering room service if they want food.

Wittenberg said a limited number of guests will help the patients feel less alone while also avoiding further spreading the virus.

“Isolation isn't very good for getting well,” he said. “[We’re] trying to balance that versus wanting to keep everybody as safe as possible also.”

The hospital is not requiring employees to get the vaccine. However, Wittenberg said fellow doctors are strongly encouraging it, as well as educating other employees on the vaccine.

“We're aware of what’s potentially coming down from the federal government,” Wittenberg said. “If they have mandates that come from the government, we will follow whatever rules we are required to follow.”

According to a survey from the Iowa Board of Nursing and Iowa Center for Nursing Workforce, nearly 58 percent of hospitals said they’ve struggled finding qualified nurses as COVID-19 increases.

While the hospital has experienced some issues for certain shifts, Wittenberg said they’ve been doing okay with maintaining their nursing staff.

Regardless, Wittenberg said a federal vaccine mandate could potentially cause resignations. Recently, a hospital in New York announced it will stop delivering babies less than two weeks after several workers quit due to opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I honestly think if the mandate comes down, I think we are going to have some employees quit,” Wittenberg said. “We know nationwide, that's happened ... that's the other thing we're trying to balance. We have to take care of patients, and it doesn't help to do that if everybody quits.”

Stittsworth said the Knoxville hospital has also been struggling with employee shortages during this time.

“We have several openings,” Stittsworth said. “I think it's just like anywhere. Whether it's fast food restaurants or downtown businesses, Walmart, everyone's kind of in that struggle right now."

While the small-town clinic stays closed on Thursdays, Wittenburg said he feels optimistic the situation will improve.

“If you look at what's happened in other nations with this surge, it surges and then it trends downward and that's kind of what we're starting to see nationwide,” Wittenberg said. “I'm hopeful that we're at the top of the surge, and it's going to start coming down, but obviously, time will tell.”

Sarah Stortz can be reached at sstortz@oskyherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @sarah__stortz.

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