COVID-19

How are hospitals handling staffing challenges during a COVID-19 surge?

Erika Beras Nov 11, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Health care workers at a COVID-19 unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston in July. Mark Felix/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

How are hospitals handling staffing challenges during a COVID-19 surge?

Erika Beras Nov 11, 2020
Health care workers at a COVID-19 unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston in July. Mark Felix/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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We’re in a COVID-19 surge: over a 100,000 new cases every day in the U.S. for more than a week.

Now we’re also seeing an all-time high of COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 61,964 on Tuesday.

Hospitals, doctors, nurses and the entire staff in many places are all struggling to meet the demand.

Back in the spring when COVID-19 hospitalizations were surging in a handful of cities, medical personnel from across the country packed up and traveled to hot spots to help. 

But now as cases surge to all-time highs in many states, “the problem is the country itself is almost one big hot spot,” said Dave Dillon, a spokesperson for the Missouri Hospital Association. In parts of Missouri, hospital beds are almost full.

“Our biggest issue currently is staffing,” Dillon said. “We have bed capacity, but beds are only as good as your ability to put the staffing resource beside them.”

Some hospitals are short-staffed because their own people are sick, or quarantining, or in some places there just wasn’t enough staff to begin with, said Cynthia Cox, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation

“That’s particularly acute in rural areas where it’s just harder to attract the workforce that hospitals need,” she said.

Christine Petersen, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa, said in her state, rural hospitals are sending patients to the already-strapped larger hospitals. So COVID-19 care at those facilities is partly provided by “people who are trained for other things, not specialist in these areas of pulmonary care, infectious diseases,” she said.

Getting reassigned worries Lisa Ford. She’s a nurse at hospital system affiliated with Washington University in St. Louis. Like many of her colleagues, she has a child at home whom she’s helping with remote learning.

“I feel like people are just — they’re tired. They’re worn down. It just feels relentless; it feels never-ending. It’s frustrating,” Ford said. 

Not to mention, cases are rising in Missouri

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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