Ray Martin DeMonia’s family said in his obituary that when hundreds of primarily unvaccinated COVID-19 patients flooded Alabama critical care units, hospital officials in north Alabama contacted 43 institutions in three states to secure a specialist cardiac ICU bed for him.
The man from Cullman was eventually relocated to Meridian, Mississippi, which is around 170 miles (274 kilometers) away. The 73-year-old antiques trader died there on Sept. 1 after suffering a heart attack. His family is now pleading for his release.
“In honor of Ray, please be vaccinated if you haven’t already,” his obituary stated, “in order to free up resources for non-COVID related emergencies.”
According to his obituary, “due to COVID-19, CRMC emergency staff called 43 hospitals in three states in search of a cardiac ICU bed and ultimately identified one in Meridian, MS,” referring to Cullman Regional Medical Center. “He would not want any other family to go through what he and his family went through.”
For weeks, hospitals and intensive care units in Alabama have been flooded with mostly unvaccinated patients, making it increasingly difficult to transfer patients to other facilities for specialty care, according to Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now leads the Alabama Hospital Association.
“Hospitals are trying to find a place to relocate patients every day, and that is quite difficult,” Williamson added. “Patients have been moved to Georgia, Kentucky, and Florida.”
DeMonia was a patient, according to Jennifer Malone of the Cullman hospital, and he needed to be transported to obtain a higher level of specialized care not available at Cullman Regional Medical Center. For reasons of confidentiality, she couldn’t say much more, but she did say that the “continuing spike in COVID patients has filled tertiary care facilities,” making it “an ongoing and rising issue for Cullman Regional personnel to find hospitals willing to accommodate patient transfers when needed.”
Williamson was unable to comment on DeMonia’s case, but stated that the difficulty to find an open bed to transfer a patient is an everyday occurrence.
“Basically, COVID patients have taken over half of our ICU beds,” Williamson added.
According to the Alabama Hospital Association, there were 2,474 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals on Monday, with 86 percent of them being unvaccinated.
A individual with COVID-19 occupies over half of the state’s intensive care unit beds, or 772 beds. As a result of the influx of patients, some hospitals were forced to convert other areas of their facilities to ICUs. Patients who would ordinarily be treated in ICU wards are being treated in emergency rooms, regular beds, or even gurneys left in hallways, according to state officials.
On Monday, the state had 1,562 ICU patients but only 1,551 ICU beds.
When DeMonia died on Sept. 1, the situation became even worse. On that particular day, the state had 92 more patients in need of ICU care than it did allocated beds. DeMonia’s daughter did not immediately react to a request for comment on Facebook.
State hospitals have witnessed a tiny reduction in recent days, according to Dr. Scott Harris, chairman of the Alabama Department of Public Health, after hospitalizations threatened to reach an all-time high during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Our ICU bed capacity in Alabama continues to be a serious crisis,” Harris added.
While Harris claims that Alabama’s vaccination rates have improved in recent weeks after the state experienced double-digit deaths every day for a month or so, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only about 40% of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated, compared to 53% nationally.
DeMonia was recalled as a family guy in his obituary and an article in his hometown paper, The Cullman Times, who acquired an interest in antiques as a youth and offered his auctioneering abilities and sense of showmanship at community fundraisers.
Ray DeMonia was a one-of-a-kind individual, according to his relatives.