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In update on Sharon Hospital plans, Hirko warns of bad flu and COVID

SHARON — Sharon Hospital and parent company Nuvance held another in a series of public information meetings on planned changes to the hospital on Zoom on Dec. 14.

The meeting was relatively quiet, with few questions about issues that have been of concern to area residents, including the closing of the labor and maternity unit and reduction in hours for the intensive care unit and surgery department.

Dr. Mark Hirko, head of Sharon Hospital, opened the conversation with an update on COVID-19 and with warnings about the coming flu season.

He urged that area residents  get vaccinated and get their booster shots for COVID-19. He said that more than 75% of  COVID-19 patients have not had their shots.

There has been a surge of infections in New York State and Connecticut.

“Our infectivity rate had gone down to 1% but is now 8% in our region, the highest we’ve seen,” he said.  “It’s 5% in Dutchess County.

“We are seeing a repeat of rates we haven’t seen in 8 to 10 months; most of these patients, again, are unvaccinated.

“The CDC is showing that in the next  7 to 10 weeks, omicron will be the most prevalent variant.

“Booster shots reduce the risk. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, please be vaccinated and if you’re eligible, please move forward with the booster.”

He said some symptoms of the milder omicron variant include muscle weakness, fatigue and brain fog.

“I had COVID in spite of being vaccinated, and had these symptoms as well as joint pain, balance issues and trouble walking. Other symptoms of long-term COVID can include numbness, headaches, stroke, persistent loss of taste and smell, rashes and hair loss.”

Hirko then warned that this is expected to be an unusually bad year for the flu.

“We are used to having the flu annually and developing resistance and immunities to fight it off.

“But since we didn’t have much flu in the past year, we are susceptible to having bad reactions to the flu this year.”

Again, he said, “vaccination is the best defense. Also important: social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks. They do work.”

Regarding new developments at Sharon Hospital, Hirko said it is now designated as a primary stroke center.

“Patients show up in the ER, their symptoms are recognized by practitioners there, we do a remote visit with an expert at a sister hospital and see if the patient needs clot-busting medications or tertiary care at another hospital.

“This is coordinated care and it is the future of health care.”

Sharon Hospital will soon submit its Certificate of Need to the state requesting that the labor and delivery unit be closed, he said.

But he said that some progress has been made in recruiting new staff to the hospital.

He also touted the new medical mobile unit that will be outside Sharon Hospital on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m., offering physicals, diagnostic  care, vaccines and COVID-19 tests.

To make an appointment, call 860-387-0801.

To see the recording of the Dec. 14 Zoom meeting, go to www.nuvancehealth.org/connecticut-community-forums.

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