For NJ hospitals during historic COVID spike, worry is not over PPE or beds, but staff - Health Professionals & Allied Employees

For NJ hospitals during historic COVID spike, worry is not over PPE or beds, but staff

Taken from North

By Lindy Washburn

December 29, 2021

As the omicron variant of COVID-19 drives a steep increase in hospital admissions in New Jersey, the biggest worry for health care leaders in this wave of the pandemic is not personal protective equipment, intensive care space or ventilators. It’s staffing.

Hospital employees — physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, patient care technicians and others — are becoming infected with COVID at record numbers, just like the public. But when they get sick, that affects hospitals’ ability to care for the rest of us.

That’s a growing concern, since New Jersey’s daily COVID case count hit a record Wednesday of more than 20,000 as increased testing around the holidays is detecting more cases and the omicron variant continues to spread. But the number of cases is likely far higher than reported, since those results don’t include many at-home test kit results, and some positive diagnoses are likely missed entirely because the demand for tests exceeds the supply.

Tuesday evening, the number of COVID patients in New Jersey’s hospitals had climbed to 3,273 — a gain of nearly 250% in a month. In mid-December, Judy Persichilli, the state health commissioner, said that the state’s modeling showed the latest surge could peak in mid-January with 5,000 hospitalized individuals.

But an equally important barometer of whether the state’s health care system can handle the incoming surge is the number of infections among hospital employees. And that, too, is soaring.

“Workforce issues … are quickly becoming one of the greatest — if not the greatest — challenge facing our health care facilities during this surge of the omicron variant,” said Cathy Bennett, CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association. While they existed long before COVID, the pandemic has exacerbated the staff shortages, she said.

On Dec. 23, a record for hospital staff infections was set — 437. And on Tuesday, a new record was set at 56. That overshadows the previous high last winter of 162. The number of staff infections prior to December of 2020 has not been made public.

Read more here.