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RMC opens third COVID unit as patient count climbs

Costs of COVID-19 hospitalization

The average cost of hospital care for COVID-19 patients without insurance (or at an out-of-network provider) is about $51,000 for patients age 21-40, and $78,569 for patients between 41 and 60 years old, according a July report from FAIR Health. 

Regional Medical Center in Anniston reopened its third COVID-19 unit Tuesday, according to CEO Louis Bass, as hospitalizations for the virus continue to climb. 

The hospital has 45 patients in its three coronavirus treatment units, Bass said, with a handful of patients on standby in the RMC emergency room and at least one other held at Stringfellow. The hospital’s numbers were last this high as post-holiday infections waned in January. 

“That was actually as it was coming down,” Bass said. 

Now patient headcounts are swinging back up: RMC’s first two COVID units had been running at capacity for about a week before hospital leaders decided to open the third unit, Bass explained. 

This follows an announcement Tuesday night from Alabama Hospital Association president Don Williamson that the state had exceeded its intensive care unit capacity by 11 beds. 

“We’ve never been here before,” Williamson told news network WFSA Tuesday. “We are truly now in uncharted territory in terms of our ICU bed capacity.”

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, there were 434 positive tests in Calhoun County in the last seven days, about 30.5 percent of 1,424 administered. The county has had 131 deaths from the virus this year. 

Asked what the community can do to help stem the flow of cases at the hospital, Bass said that recommendations remain the same as ever: Get vaccinated, mask up. 

“The number is still very skewed toward the unvaccinated population,” Bass said. “Beyond 80 percent of our patients are unvaccinated.” 

Vaccinations still slow locally

Vaccination uptake has been slower in recent months following an initial surge in spring, according to Tom Dixon, director of Oxford Health Systems. 

Dixon said he’s observed four groups of people defined by their level of acceptance of the vaccines: One group was ready to take the shot immediately, which accounts for the initial waves of vaccinations in late spring. A second group accepted vaccinations after some amount of education or personal experience pushed them. A third group requires some incentive to take the vaccine, and a fourth group simply won’t participate. 

The third group, the one that needs incentivizing, seems to be finding its way into clinics now, Dixon explained. 

“We’re seeing people who are otherwise not in the first groups who are saying, ‘I’m learning more about this, I’ve experienced the death of a loved one from this, I’m going to get vaccinated,’” Dixon said. 

The ADPH COVID-19 online vaccination dashboard, which tracks vaccination rates statewide and at the county level, was apparently out of order Wednesday afternoon, so current vaccination rates were unavailable. 

As of last week, 28 percent of Calhoun County residents were fully vaccinated. Statewide, 64 percent of eligible residents had yet to receive their first dose of a vaccine.

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.