Many Hospitals Are Getting Overwhelmed. It’s a Crisis That Could Affect Healthcare for Years to Come.

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Each wave of COVID-19 has hit Washington state hospitals harder than the last. Now, two years into the pandemic, most of the nurses working in the emergency department at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle are gone, and the department is having trouble finding enough nurses to treat its patients.

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“We don’t have the same nursing staff, essentially, we had last summer as well,” says Dr. Steve Mitchell, the department’s medical director. “We’ve had to close some beds in our emergency department because we don’t have nurses to help manage them.”

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The number of patients of Kovid-19 in Washington hospitals is more than ever before. Some hospitals in the state are already operating at 150% of their licensed bed capacity, Mitchell says, and patients are being treated in hallways and breezeways and usually as recovery rooms for surgery patients. is used to.

“That’s our worst point,” he says. “March 2020 was tough. But now we are in a worse position than ever.”

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The number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 in the US is higher than ever, and a wave of patients is affecting a hospital system that is rebounding after two years of nonstop pressure.

Medical director of an intensive care unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. “We’re very tired and we haven’t really slowed down since it all started,” says Jaron Lee.

The Omicron wave is revealing a healthcare workforce in the US that has been weakened by a two-year pandemic. In some parts of the country, hospitals are managing to maintain relatively normal operations. In others, state and local hospital systems are already adopting emergency measures.

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In Virginia, the cap on the number of patients a hospital can care for is removed. Delaware has suspended staffing ratio requirements for long-term care facilities. hospital system Nebraska and . In Delaware, and emergency medical services in Colorado have in recent days established so-called crisis standards of care, which allow the rationing of treatment in extreme emergencies.

The acute crisis may be short-lived, but it provides an uncomfortable window into the health care system battered by the pandemic. Staff shortages will persist even after the Omicron wave. This will have implications for patient care and the healthcare industry at large, which could last for years.

Healthcare companies rely on nursing enough for patients to be able to use their drugs, medical devices, and other products. Hospital companies cannot function without enough nurses to staff their beds. In November, Medtronic (ticker: MDT) blamed nursing shortages as it cut its sales guidance, saying hospitals couldn’t use its equipment because there weren’t enough ICU nurses available to perform the surgery, for which Those tools are used for

“There have been structural changes in the labor market,” acknowledged Soum Sutaria, CEO of hospital company Tenet Healthcare (THC), at an investor conference this week. “It is foolish to say that nothing has changed that will not affect us going forward, even if … Omicron disappears in February.”

In the near term, the federal government is trying to address the problem with military doctors. The Biden administration announced on Thursday it would send troops to six states to assist hospital workers.

According to the system’s chief clinical officer, Dr. Tom Balczek, there are 3,000 open jobs at Yale New Haven Health, a health system that runs hospitals in Connecticut. “We’ve seen retirement very early, people take on different types of jobs,” he says. “It’s great resignation combined with the fatigue and frustration of working in healthcare.”

In Balcezak’s system, the number of covid-19 patients is still lower than in spring 2020, but now covid-19 patients are coming to a hospital that is busy treating people who need care for other reasons , who may have stayed at home. in March 2020. What’s more, 700 of the health system’s 30,000 workers fell ill in a single day in early January.

“It increases the resources we have, the staff, the beds,” he says. “It’s just being worn on our employees. Like everywhere in our country right now, the morale here is a little off – it’s tough.”

Omicron’s impact is spreading disproportionately across the country, and some hospital leaders say the wave has so far been less intense than others. Now, more hospitalized patients are being treated outside the ICU, and fewer people are dying. Fewer deaths, says Dr. Michelle Barone, senior medical director of infection prevention and control for the Colorado hospital system UCHealth, have reduced the psychological burden.

“When you do everything you think you can, and they still die, it’s tough,” Baron says.

Supply-chain issues are not as acute as they were in March of 2020, when hospitals were scrambling for protective equipment, but they stayed. A severe blood shortage prompted the American Red Cross to sound a rare nationwide alarm this week. Mass General K. Lee says his hospital staff is donating blood in their spare time.

Some US hospitals are now in crisis of effective care to standard ration treatment. Oregon This week updated its crisis standards of care guidelines, which call for setting up a triage team to prioritize patients based on their prognosis, among other factors. Mitchell says Washington hospitals could be forced to implement crisis standards of care in the coming weeks.

For doctors and other healthcare workers, this is yet another extraordinary challenge in the two years they have fought relentlessly. Even after the wave passes, the impact on the hospital team will remain.

“The silver wave of baby boomers has arrived just as the wave of people abandoning healthcare workers is happening because of the pandemic,” says Mitchell. “From a social point of view, it makes the healthcare system more fragile.”

Write to josh [email protected]

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