'Bleaker by the day': Hospital CEOs hard-pressed for optimism amid COVID-19 surge

"Unconscionable." "Exhausted." "Unimaginable." 

The latest surge of COVID-19 is undeniably different. And it's affecting the messages hospital CEOs are sharing with their communities.

In a letter shared Aug. 9 with NBC News affiliate WGEM, Todd Ahrens, president and CEO of Hannibal (Mo.) Regional Healthcare System, said his team is exhausted. While many in the community may have questions around vaccines and masking, "I can guarantee you that the family who just lost their 50-year-old otherwise healthy father to COVID, the nurse who is working 70-80 hours a week to care for COVID patients, and the doctors that have spent their lifetime serving the healthcare needs of our community, don't question it," he said. "They will say ... this plan is simple, it is easy to do, and it just might save your life."

Lee Bonds, the CEO of Pascagoula, Miss.-based Singing River Health System, echoed Mr. Ahrens' sentiments around clinician exhaustion in an Aug. 8 interview with WLOX-TV. He told the news organization: "I have seen things with my eyes that I wish ... images that will be there forever. And our nurses have seen things that are just unconscionable. ... The stress on them is unimaginable."

In Fort Myers, Fla., Lee Health President and CEO Larry Antonucci, MD, told a local news station that "the crisis Southwest Florida is facing from the spread of the coronavirus continues to become bleaker by the day." His health system hit a record for COVID-19 patients as of Aug. 9.

"We all must remember that these numbers we report out are people; they are our friends, families, and neighbors," Dr. Antonucci told NBC 2. "Sadly, some of them will not make it home again. We all can make individual decisions that will save lives."

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