Southern US hospitals grapple with staff shortages amid record Covid cases

10 days ago

Southern US hospitals grapple with staff shortages amid record Covid cases

The Guardian

As the Omicron variant rips through the US, states in the south continue to report record case numbers amid serious concern around hospital staff shortages.

In Mississippi, officials warned this week the hospital system was on the verge of crisis due to staff shortages as local media reported most hospitals in the state were at or had reached capacity during the Omicron surge.

The state already faces a chronic nursing shortage, exacerbated by the pandemic, with approximately 3,000 positions vacant, according to a survey by the Mississippi Hospital Association. About a third of the state’s hospital nurses have left for other jobs, according to the research, many of them to better paying positions out of state.

Last week Mississippi recorded its highest seven day average of new Covid cases, 7,185, since the pandemic began, according to state health department data. As of Thursday the number of people hospitalized with Covid in the state had risen to 1,332 people. Health department data showed that 90% of Covid deaths for the period between 16 December 2021 and 12 January 2022 had been among unvaccinated people.

“The game has changed since the Delta wave,” said Dr Alan Jones, chancellor of clinical affairs at University of Mississippi Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital, during a Tuesday press conference reported by Mississippi Today.

Jones continued: “The challenges we are facing are really around staffing. Compounding that is that this is a much more infectious variant, taking more staff out that we have in the workforce.”

Covid vaccination rates in Mississippi remain among the lowest in the country and well below the national average, with just 49% of the population fully vaccinated.

In neighboring Tennessee hospital officials also issued cautions over staff shortages due to infection with the now dominant Omicron variant.

In Nashville, one of the city’s largest hospitals was being forced to reassign specialist staff to cope with the Omicron surge. As of Tuesday, Tennessee hit its peak Covid positive seven day average of 14,345 new cases, according to CDC data.

“We have tons of employees that have Omicron Covid,” said Dr Todd Rice, associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in an interview with local radio. “They may not be that sick, but they are infected. So, they are quarantined at home and not eligible to work.”

Rice added: “One of our biggest problems is just finding employees to take care of patients because we have so many employees that are out sick.”

State health officials in Louisiana on Wednesday reported 17,592 new cases of Covid-19, the highest number of new cases since the pandemic began and the fourth time since the end of December the state had set a new record.

On the same day, the city of New Orleans reintroduced a mask mandate amid the soaring cases. The move stood in contrast to other large cities in the state that have so far opted against new mask mandates during the latest surge.

Earlier in the week, staff at one of New Orleans’ large hospital systems voiced similar concerns around major staff shortages due to illness.

The state’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, on Thursday issued a warning about rising hospitalizations as officials noted the Omicron surge in the state had not reached its peak.

“We know that the more people that end up in the hospital, the tougher things are going to be for our state,” Edwards said during a press conference. “The hospitals are trying to deliver care for anyone who needs care, not just for Covid patients.”

Of the 2,081 people hospitalized with Covid in Louisiana, about 75% were not fully vaccinated, according to the state health department; 51% of the eligible population are vaccinated in the state, according to CDC data.

In Alabama, on Tuesday, the state reported a record number of children hospitalized with coronavirus due to the highly transmissible variant. At least 60 children had been hospitalized, with 13 receiving treatment in intensive care.

The state has also recorded a number of record case highs throughout January as officials continue to urge all those eligible to receive the Covid vaccine.

State health officials told the Montgomery Advertiser they were “extremely concerned” about the rise of hospitalizations among children and urged parents to get their children inoculated.

Some school systems in Alabama were also temporarily moving back to remote learning as a result of the continuing surge.

Vaccination rates in Alabama also remain low, with just 48% of the population fully vaccinated.

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