By Lynn R. Parks

As of Monday afternoon, the number of coronavirus patients at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford stood at 46. That is an increase of about six patients since last Thursday afternoon.

Patients suffering from COVID-19 account for more than half of all the patients who are in the facility, said hospital president Penny Short.

About a fifth of the coronavirus patients, nine, were in a critical care unit that is dedicated to people suffering with COVID-19.

Since the start of the pandemic, the hospital has had four patients die of the illness. Two of those have died since last Thursday afternoon.

To complicate matters, some of the non-coronavirus patients, not wanting to go to the hospital during the pandemic, were trying to manage their illnesses at home, Short said. That meant that by the time they got to the hospital, they were very sick, she added.

This is the surge in the number of people with the virus that scientists predicted, and that the hospital had been preparing for for weeks. The number of coronavirus patients started climbing around mid-April, Short said, “and we haven’t seen it level off yet.” She hopes that “we see the other side of the curve soon,” but was unable to predict when that will happen.

So far, Short said, Nanticoke has been able to get all the supplies that it needs, including masks and face shields. Hospitals throughout the state, as well as the Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, of which Nanticoke is a part, communicate with each other regularly and share supplies if necessary.

The hospitals are also able to share their coronavirus patient load, Short said. Recently, when Nanticoke transferred two patients to Peninsula Regional, “it wasn’t because we couldn’t care for them,” Short said. “We always do what is best for the patient, and want to match our staffing resources with the surge. We want to make sure that we’re not getting overwhelmed.”

Hospital spokeswoman Sharon Harrington called the hospitals’ system a “mobile emergency management plan.” Help and supplies are funneled to wherever the surge is occurring. As the number of patients has increased in southern Delaware, and decreased in northern Delaware, Christiana Hospital near Wilmington has been able to provide assistance.

“We are looking at our resources together,” Short said. “Nanticoke isn’t standing here in isolation. We are always looking at who needs what, then working together to get it. That’s the advantage of being in a small state, and of being part of a system.”

She said that she is confident that Nanticoke will continue to be able to serve the community. “I want people in the community to know that if they are sick, we are here for them,” she said.

Short said that a number of the patients the hospital is seeing are Hispanic. In addition, “they aren’t so much the elderly,” she added. “Many are young, in their 30s and 40s, and are coming in very sick.”

Because of that, the hospital is making an effort to get information out to the Hispanic community about recommended practices to slow the spread of the virus. Several Spanish-speaking doctors have recorded messages about social distancing and hand washing, and the messages have played on Telemundo Delmarva, a television station based in Salisbury, and on radio stations.

In addition, Nanticoke is sending the recorded messages out to churches, for ministers to include in services that they are leading over the internet.

Short praised the hospital staff for the work they are doing. “We have a sign that says, ‘Heroes work here,’ and it’s absolutely the case,” she added. “I know that they are exhausted, but they come to work every day and give 110 percent. I feel very, very fortunate to have the people here that we have. People in leadership roles lift the employees’ spirits, and co-workers lift each other’s spirits.”

Short also said that the support of the community means a lot to Nanticoke employees. “We’ve had people delivering food and leaving inspirational messages in chalk on our sidewalks,” she said. “The Woodbridge School District sent a video with messages of support. That type of thing — I can’t say enough how much that uplifts our team.”