DuBOIS — Penn Highlands Healthcare has started to see an increase in COVID-19 cases in the communities it serves and across the six-hospital health system.

“About a month ago, Penn Highlands Healthcare hospitals were caring for just a handful of COVID-19-positive inpatients in our hospitals, but now we’re caring for almost 40 per day,” PHH Chief Operating Officer Mark Norman said during a Tuesday press teleconference. “Sadly, most of these patients have not been vaccinated and are suffering and even some are dying. Our team of doctors and staff across the region have witnessed patients of all ages, from their 20s to their 90s, dying.”

Norman said many of these people may have been saved or had an easier fight if they would have received the vaccine.

“We are very interested in keeping our community safe, and we encourage everyone to talk to their doctor to learn more about the vaccines and to get vaccinated,” said Norman.

Norman noted that PHH was one of the very first health systems in the country to receive the COVID-19 vaccine last December.

“Since that time, Penn Highlands has been one of the leading healthcare organizations in the Commonwealth, providing almost 90,000 vaccines to people across the region,” he said. “We were the first in the region to open a dedicated COVID-19 unit in Penn Highlands DuBois. We continue to offer vaccine clinics throughout our region and are now beginning to offer booster shots.”

To learn more and to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine, individuals are asked to call 814-503-4735 or www.phhealthcare.org/vaccine.

For much of the fight against this deadly virus, Norman said PHH doctors, nurses, and staff encourage people in their communities to get the shot.

Additionally, Norman said PHH also asks, for the safety of the communities, take the following precautions — wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, social distance, avoid large crowds and get vaccinated.

He also said PHH facilities also are continuing their efforts to keep patients and staff safe. They encourage patients to continue to use the MyHealthNow app to see a physician or healthcare provider virtually.

“We continue to restrict access points,” said Norman. “And as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as a healthcare organization, it is required that patients, visitors, and staff to wear a mask in all of our facilities. We ask everyone to abide by this in order to keep our staff and patients safe. And the most important item, we continue to encourage our staff to get vaccinated.”

PHH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Russ Cameron said providing 90,000 vaccines is a “remarkable feat.”

“We continue to encourage everyone to talk to their doctor and get vaccinated. If the COVID 19 cases continue to grow, it will tax the available healthcare resources, causing significant concerns to healthcare,” said Cameron. “It is vital that everyone gets vaccinated and they follow the safety precautions like frequent hand-washing, social distancing and mask-wearing.”

Cameron said PHH is grateful for the dedication of their physicians, nurses, and everyone throughout the health care system during these trying times.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for those who are eight months from their second vaccine and immunocompromised.

“Penn Highlands Healthcare has been offering these booster clinics and have vaccinated thousands of people during this time,” Cameron said. “Last Friday, the Federal Drug Agency’s advisory committee made an advisory or suggestion based on data to the FDA and CDC, that people who are six, not eight months, from their last vaccine, who are 65 years and older, immunocompromised, and those who may have risk from occupational exposure, get their booster shots. This is only an advisory and we’re waiting for the final ruling from the FDA and CDC in the coming days.”

Cameron also said, for the safety of their patients and staff, PHH is implementing the recommendations from the CDC that there can be only one support person per patient per visit.

“This requirement was in place most of last year and the CDC has advised that we move back to this safety measure,” said Cameron, noting that this does not include the NICU or end-of-life situations.

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