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43 hospitals turn away Alabama heart patient due to COVID overcrowding, obituary says

An Alabama man’s obituary says he had trouble getting badly-needed emergency care due to COVID-19 patients filling up intensive care beds.

The obituary for Ray Martin DeMonia, 74, of Cullman says he died Sept. 1 from a “cardiac event.”

“In honor of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non COVID related emergencies,” the obituary says.

“Due to COVID 19, CRMC (Cullman Regional Medical Center) emergency staff contacted 43 hospitals in 3 states in search of a Cardiac ICU bed and finally located one in Meridian, MS. He would not want any other family to go through what his did.”

Meridian, Mississippi, is nearly 200 miles southeast of DeMonia’s home. Cullman is about 50 miles north of Birmingham.

DeMonia’s death comes at a time when many hospitals are reporting COVID-19 cases at “all-time highs” spurred by the highly-contagious delta variant, threatening their ability to provide emergency care.

Those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 have “dominate(d)“ ICUs across Alabama, according to The Montgomery Advertiser.

At the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, for example, 92% of intubated patients and 92% of patients in intensive care were unvaccinated as of Sept. 8, the newspaper reported.

“It seems that folks who are vaccinated and yet develop illness are those you would predict are more likely to get sick,” Dr. Scott Harris, the State Health Officer for Alabama, told The Montgomery Advertiser.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the US is experiencing a seven-day average of just over 89,000 COVID-19 patients, down from 93,484 in the previous seven days.

Around 80% of ICU beds are occupied nationwide as of the week of Sept. 9, according to The New York Times.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, critical care units in some areas are pushed beyond their critical care staff’s capacity,” the American Association of Critical Care Nurses said in an Aug. 25 news release.

“Surges in critically ill patients means that hospitals are unable to maintain a primary nursing care model and must find ways to leverage existing critical care expertise to serve larger numbers of patients.”

Reaction to DeMonia’s obituary has ranged from outrage at people who refuse to be vaccinated to questions as to how the family knew all those COVID patients were not vaccinated.

“I’ve seen plenty of reports of vaccinated people in the hospital also,” one man posted on social media.

“I had Covid in January & got both vaccines. Probably will go for 3rd shot too,” a woman wrote.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in July that data shows those who are exposed to the delta variant after being fully vaccinated are seven times less likely to have symptoms and 20 times less likely to be hospitalized or die when compared to unvaccinated people.

And a CDC study released in September found that unvaccinated children ages 12 to 17 were hospitalized at ten times the rate of a vaccinated child in the same age group.

Alabama’s positive rate for COVID-19 tests is considered high at 19.5% in the past seven days, health officials report. The state has had just over 750,000 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began and 12,678 deaths, including about 5,500 so far this year, the state reported.

DeMonia was an auctioneer for 40 years and was known for traveling the country in search of antiques to sell at DeMonia’s Antiques and Auctions in Cullman, according to his obituary.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.

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