As the omicron variant of COVID-19 leads to a surge in hospital admissions in New Jersey, the biggest concern of health leaders in this pandemic wave is not personal protective equipment, l intensive care space or ventilators. It is the endowment.
Hospital workers – doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, patient care technicians and others – are infected with COVID in record numbers, as are the public. But when they do get sick, it affects the ability of hospitals to take care of us.
As of Tuesday evening, the number of COVID patients in New Jersey hospitals had risen to 3,273 – a gain of nearly 250% in one month. If the escalation continues, state health department’s worst projections predict that COVID patients hospitalized in mid-January would eclipse the peak of 8,300 on the worst day of the pandemic, in April 2020.
But a second, equally important barometer of whether the state’s health system can handle the inbound outbreak is the number of infections among hospital workers. And that, too, is skyrocketing.
“Workforce issues … are quickly becoming one of the biggest – if not the biggest – challenge our healthcare facilities face during this wave of the omicron variant,” said Cathy Bennett, CEO of New Jersey Hospital Association While they existed long before COVID, the pandemic has exacerbated staff shortages, she said.
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On December 23, a record for infections of hospital staff was set – 407. And on Tuesday, a new record was set at 2300. This compares to last winter’s previous record of 162. The infection records staff before last December have not been made public.
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At Newark University Hospital, the number of staff infections doubled in each of the three weeks leading up to Christmas, its CEO Shereef Elnahal said on Twitter.
âEveryone in New Jersey has staffing issues,â said Dr. Daniel Varga, chief medical officer of Hackensack Meridian Health, which has 11 hospitals and three children’s hospitals. âIt’s not like we start with a full tank. And now these people are getting sick.
Even though vaccinations are mandatory at most hospitals across the state, major infections sidelined hundreds of workers – 500 earlier this week at Hackensack Meridian facilities.
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When this is combined with earlier departures due to retirement, burnout and the attraction of higher paying positions with hospital staffing agencies, the lack of staff to provide bedside care becomes a real problem. concern.
Leaders of state nursing unions said the state health commissioner told them to prepare by mid-January for “crisis care standards,” in which nurses would be invited to treat 10 to 15 patients each, outside of the intensive care units.
At Hackensack Meridian, some administrative staff have already been assigned to non-clinical duties in the hospital to help, Varga said.
Other measures include reallocating staff from outpatient clinics and surgical departments to inpatient units and using contracted agency staff to supplement hospital employees, Bennett said.
The problem is worse in parts of the country where vaccination rates are lower. President Joe Biden has ordered the deployment of 1,000 military medics to help overwhelmed hospitals in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, New Hampshire and New Mexico.
And last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control relaxed recommendations for isolating healthcare workers after a positive COVID test.
If they don’t show symptoms, health workers who test positive can return to work after seven days with a negative test – a period that can be further shortened in the event of a significant staff shortage, the CDC said. Those who have been vaccinated and boosted no longer need to self-quarantine after positive exposure.
Nurses see this relaxation of standards as the wrong message at the wrong time.
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“We are in crisis,” said Barbara Rosen, senior vice-president of the union of healthcare professionals and allied employees. âWhy don’t you use the highest standards to protect the staff you have on the job? ”
âGetting workers back to work sooner to alleviate the staff shortage is counterintuitive,â she said in a joint statement with Debbie Rogers, union president. âIt will only increase illness, burnout, stress and the exodus from the professions. â¦ During a power surge, it’s time to have more protection, not less. “
In New Jersey, the highest number of staff infections in the past 30 days was reported to Hackensack University Medical Center, with 292; Newark University Hospital, with 255; and Morristown Medical Center, with 238.
Other top ten hospitals include St. Joseph University Medical Center in Paterson, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, Overlook Medical Center in Summit, Medical Center Hunterdon in Raritan Township, St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, and Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune. The figures are self-reported by hospitals to the Association of State Hospitals, which provides the data to the Ministry of Health.
As hospital workers prepare for the coming weeks, Rosen said New Jersey was “late” in reinstating a mask warrant in public places.
âWe have a great demand for the people of New Jersey,â Bennett said. âHelp our healthcare teams so that they can help you. Get vaccinated or boosted, and please continue to follow transmission precautions such as face shielding and hand washing. ”
Lindy Washburn is a senior health care reporter for NorthJersey.com. To stay up to date on how changes in healthcare are affecting you and your family, please register or activate your digital account today.
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