September 27, 2021

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‘Perfect storm’: Plethora of COVID cases tests hospitals facing critical shortage of ICU staff – WPLG Local 10

4 min read

MIAMI – Throughout the 18 months of the pandemic, hospitals have faced a competitive labor market, but the new rise of COVID hospitalizations is testing South Florida hospitals dealing with a critical shortage of intensive care unit staff.

These are the highly-trained nurses and specialized physicians who are providing minute-to-minute care for patients who are facing high-intensity situations during the critical life-threatening stages of COVID.

“Nurses, critical care nurses, respiratory therapists … We are having trouble getting that staff,” said Dr. Marc Napp, the chief medical officer for the Memorial Healthcare System, during a news conference.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been tracking the shortages with snapshot reports from 205 hospitals in Florida. The data doesn’t identify hospitals by name but it showed that as of Monday 12 hospitals had reported having a “critical staffing shortage” and 15 expected shortages. Meanwhile, The Florida Hospital Association reported on Monday that 60% of hospitals expect a critical staffing shortage in the next seven days.

Heather Havericak, the chief executive officer of Broward Health Medical Center, described the current situation as a “perfect storm.”

“We are all fighting for that same pool of nurses and that pool becomes smaller and smaller,” Havericak said.

Baptist Health reported adding 300 travel crisis staff who will be arriving this week to join the existing frontline staff since the shortage had ICU nurses who used to care for one or two patients taking care of three.

Martha Baker, a trauma nurse and the president of Jackson Healthcare Union SEIU 1991, said taking care of COVID patients is tough work — especially when they have to turn them on their belly so they can breathe. She said it can require the force of a team of six. She also said that in her four decades of experience she has never seen such a shortage and aggressive recruiting.

“You are talking big bucks. If a nurse makes on an average $40 bucks an hour at Jackson, they were being recruited away for $120 to $140 bucks an hour,” Baker said.

In July, the Kaufman Hall’s National Hospital Flash Report, which analyses data from hundreds of hospitals nationwide, showed hospitals in the south region, which includes Florida, faced a labor expense increase of nearly 3% year-over-year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released strategies to mitigate staffing shortages in March recommending that hospitals cancel all non-essential procedures and visits and impose strict rules to prevent staff from getting infected. South Florida hospitals are starting to implement radical measures. The Jackson Health System is preparing to enforce a vaccination mandate on all employees and asked them to get vaccinated by Aug. 23rd.

“That is a real big challenge right now we are dealing with, and the only thing we can hope for is this surge that is going on really peaks out here pretty soon and we get back to a more normal environment,” Carlos Migoya, Jackson Health’s chief executive officer, told Gov. Ron DeSantis during a virtual meeting Thursday.

New wave of COVID cases test hospital systems in South Florida
New wave of COVID cases test hospital systems in South Florida

Most experts view the critical care staffing shortage as a symptom of a public health crisis that requires South Florida residents to be proactive about using face masks, social distancing, washing hands, and getting the vaccine. DeSantis stands against face mask and vaccine mandates, but he pushed for seniors to have priority access at the beginning of the inoculation campaign.

“Current hospitalizations and the growth rate continue to be extremely troubling,” Mary C. Mayhew, the chief executive officer of the Florida Hospital Association, recently said in a statement. “But vaccines work! The fact that less than 3% of current hospitalizations arrived from nursing homes and long-term care facilities shows the state’s focus on vaccinating and protecting Florida’s seniors and most vulnerable has worked.”

Doctors in Broward and Miami-Dade counties have said the majority of the new COVID patients treated in ICU are now younger and unvaccinated. David Espino, a 17-year-old football player at TRU Prep Academy, has been hospitalized for 10 days at Broward Health with COVID. He developed pneumonia and his mother said she regretted not having gotten him the vaccine sooner.

“We are seeing people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s being hospitalized for this virus and getting very sick,” Dr. Peter Paige, Miami-Dade County’s first chief medical officer, said Thursday afternoon during a news conference. “A lot of this could have been avoided if people had been vaccinated.”

Havericak strongly agrees. She views this as the solution to the hospitals’ challenges with balancing the needs for bed capacity and critical care staffing.

“It’s not going to end until the community stands behind us,” she said. “We need the community to get vaccinated.”

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