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As COVID cases surge, local ER doctor shares what it’s like on the inside

Justin Hicks/WVPE

As cases of the omicron variant surge, Beacon Hospitals are reporting some of their highest COVID inpatient numbers in more than a year. 

Dr. Steven Spilger has been an emergency department physician for almost 30 years and mainly works at Beacon’s hospitals in South Bend and Granger.


He said in the ER, the sickest people get treated first, and doctors normally don’t have trouble treating those patients quickly. COVID-19 has tested those limits, though.


“It’s gotten borderline at times in the last month,” Spilger said. “That’s where the stress comes in, when you get at that border zone where you’re so overloaded.” 


Spilger said they’ve still managed to get all ER patients treated so far, even if it means canceling elective surgeries and longer wait times for other patients.


Like many other workplaces, he said hospitals are facing a staffing shortage – and the staff that remains has been through a lot in the last two years. 


“There’s a certain amount of fatigue,” Spilger said. “And a lot of the fatigue might be related to the fact that there’s a subgroup of the community that doesn’t seem to be interested in doing what I consider is the best community health thing, which is to be vaccinated.” 


Though fatigued and frustrated, Spilger said healthcare workers are willing to do what it takes to keep the community safe. 


“It’s kind of a ‘the buck stops here’ situation,” he said. “You’re a trained physician, this is what you do. You’re a trained nurse, this is what you do. The community needs your expertise – or at least you showing up to work – and so you just do it.”


“And then you have the occasional patient who is delightful and brings your spirits up,” he added. “When people are nice to you, that’s helpful.”


Spilger said the most important thing community members can do to help healthcare workers is to get vaccinated. He said patience and compassion don’t hurt, either.


“As humans, we all need to be patient with each other,” he said. “So the thing to do is to get vaccinated and just be patient – understand everybody’s roles – and be kind to each other.”


Contact Gemma atgdicarlo@wvpe.orgor follow her on Twitter at@gemma_dicarlo.


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Gemma DiCarlo came to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.