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COVID-19

In the U.S., around 1 in 5 hospitals have a critical shortage of staff

Andy Uhler Nov 23, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Medical staff members treat a patient suffering from coronavirus in the intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on Nov. 10 in Houston, Texas. Go Nakamura/Getty Images
COVID-19

In the U.S., around 1 in 5 hospitals have a critical shortage of staff

Andy Uhler Nov 23, 2020
Medical staff members treat a patient suffering from coronavirus in the intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center on Nov. 10 in Houston, Texas. Go Nakamura/Getty Images
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Robert Hancock, a physician who treats patients in Texas and Oklahoma, has seen firsthand what it’s like when overwhelmed hospitals experience COVID-19 outbreaks among staff. 

“I personally tried to transfer a patient and basically tried everywhere within 150 miles and nobody had available ICU beds,” Hancock said.

He’s forced to keep patients in emergency rooms and ask overwhelmed ER nurses to look after three times the number of patients he said they should.

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.

John Henderson, president and CEO of the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals, said staffing problems are getting worse.

“Particularly when you go west and northwest in Texas, they’re having fits with COVID outbreaks among their staff nurses,” he said.

Another problem for hospitals whose staff contract the virus is that COVID patients often need ventilators and urgent care for a long time.

“It’s not your normal two-day hospital stay and then you turn the room over,” Henderson said. “It’s 10 days, two weeks in some instances where they’re in-patient with intensive staffing and equipment needs.”

One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

“If you’ve been waiting for a few months to get in to have that funny lump that’s been seen in your breast cared for or your circulatory system needs repair, all of those things are urgent and concerning to Americans,” said Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety at the American Hospital Association.

She says hospitals are doing what they can to adapt — cross-training and redistributing work to different personnel — but the strain on staff isn’t going to let up anytime soon.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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