Understaffed hospitals struggle with Covid surge among unvaccinated

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FARMINGTON, NM – At San Juan Regional Medical Center, one of every three doors in the intensive care unit has a written message: “Anointed by Father Tim.”

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This means that the patient inside has received a funeral from a Catholic priest, and is not expected to survive. Every patient in the ICU has Kovid, and is on a ventilator.

Nearly two years into the COVID pandemic, amid another surge in hospitals, parts of the country’s health care system are still overwhelmed and understaffed, struggling to deal with unvaccinated cases.


No cases of the omicron version of COVID have yet been reported in northwestern New Mexico, but more than half of hospital patients have COVID, and the ICU is more than twice its licensing capacity.

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The most recent spike in COVID patients needing intensive care comes at a time when hospitals across the country are facing acute shortages of staff, a long-term trend that has worsened the punitive conditions of the pandemic.

But this week, the San Juan staff is being supplemented by Navy physicians, nurses and support staff on loan from the Department of Defense and by teams from the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical Support System.

The National Disaster Medical Assistance System has been a major emergency stopgap for American hospitals. Like the National Guard, its teams are usually deployed in response to natural disasters such as hurricanes or earthquakes, when medical resources are overwhelmed. But since the beginning of 2020, they’ve been installing in hospitals and other facilities on more than 700 “missions” in 38 states and U.S. territories. Teams are on constant rotation to ensure access to medical care, most have been deployed multiple times – some as many as 10 times since the start of the pandemic.

The US military has also stepped in to meet the shortage of staff. Since the Delta version emerged in the US this summer, more than 400 military medical personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force have been deployed to help treat COVID patients at civilian hospitals in nine states.

San Juan’s CEO is blunt. Without this federal aid, he says, the hospital would face a “clinical catastrophe.”

“The intensity and number of ICU-level patients has created a need for these external resources that is beyond description,” said Jeff Bourgeois.

Federal support, he says, “is absolutely critical to our ability to survive this.”

Bourgeois said his facility is the longest and most acute COVID hospitalization since the start of the pandemic. San Juan serves a largely rural four-county area with a high Native American and Latino population, and low incomes and pre-existing conditions are common. According to Bourgeois, all seven regional hub hospitals in the state, including San Juan, exceed their licensed ICU capacity.

San Juan ICU nurse Heather Robinson said that on some days, “It felt like I was in a movie. It didn’t feel real.”

Robinson admitted the first COVID patient to the ICU in San Juan in March 2020, but he says this current surge of cases is most disturbing, as all ages are affected.

The current influx of patients is being driven by the unaffiliated. In the past month, 81 percent of Covid hospitalizations in San Juan – and 91 percent of Covid ICU hospitalizations – are individuals who have not been fully vaccinated.

The death rate is similar. Of the 17 hospitalized patients who died of Covid, only one was fully vaccinated.

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ongoing labor crisis

The shortage of hospital staff – particularly those with ICU experience – has put additional burdens on medical systems. The cost of San Juan Regional Medical Center’s external staffing has risen 373 percent over the past year, and can only be covered because of federal funding.

Employee status in San Juan reflects a national trend. An analysis by Premier, Inc., a health care technology company that works with more than 4,400 hospitals and health care systems, found that turnover in high-stress departments such as intensive care is about 45 percent higher than in 2019 pre-pandemic. Baseline, while overall turnover in nursing departments is up about 23 percent. On average, more than one in three clinical team members have lost their jobs since the pandemic began.

“first wave” [of shortages] From masks to drugs it was all about the supplies,” Premiere CEO Mike Alkire told Granthshala News. “The second wave has been all about staff and labor and making sure there are enough caregivers for all patients.”

“I speak to hospital leaders across the country every day. It is very difficult to describe the outrage I hear in their voices. But it comes through loud and clear. To deal with the surge in COVID patients, along with all the other pandemic-related issues they are dealing with – and this is compounded by the ongoing labor crisis – is beyond pale. ,

Bobby O’Connell, a team commander leading the National Disaster Medical Systems team sent to New Mexico for a two-week mission, said that even with the additional federal staff, hospitals are still thin.

“Covid is still very much here. It is still hitting communities very hard, especially among unconnected populations. … these are very bad, very sad situations that often don’t have a very good ending.”

Credit: www.nbcnews.com /

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