COVID-19 surge raises threats of hospital staff shortages

The current surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations is depleting the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals available to care for the sick and injured in Ohio, experts warned Monday.

Staffing shortages could mean that patients won’t receive care or that other procedures could need to be canceled, hospital administrators and state health department officials said.

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“We are grappling with unprecedented COVID-19 numbers and they’re impacting every community. Not surprisingly, our hospitals statewide are approaching maximal capacity. Not because of limitations of safety supplies or physical beds, but because we’re exhausting the supply of trained personnel,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the incoming chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health.

Doctors, nurses and other health care providers are exposed to the virus spreading in Ohio communities.

“When they have to quarantine, they can’t be at the bedside,” Vanderhoff said.

With the promise of an eventual effective vaccine, doctors statewide are urging Ohioans to double-down on masking, hand washing and social distancing. The public is urged to avoid crowds and mass gatherings.

“It really comes down to our personal behavior in our personal life and that’s very hard to legislate or regulate from a state perspective,” said Dr. Andy Thomas of Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University.

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Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday called a COVID-19 press briefing and introduced Vanderhoff and a team of doctors who are coordinating Ohio hospitals' response.

Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator because it can take time for people to be sick enough to go to the hospital, and it can take weeks after cases start to rise for hospitalizations to climb. Likewise, an increase in deaths can lag behind a rise in hospitalizations.

As of Monday, Ohio’s hospitals had 2,533 COVID-19 patients, with 628 in the ICU, according to the Ohio Hospital Association. During Ohio’s last peak on July 28, 1,122 patients were hospitalized. The state does not appear to have reached a peak on the current surge.

Ohio’s previous ICU peak of 533 patients occurred on April 15.

On Sept. 20, statewide 563 COVID-19 patients were in hospitals and 191 in the ICU, meaning in 50 days Ohio has seen a 350% increase and 229% increase in the ICU, the association reported.

“As a region we are at a new peak high of COVID-19 positive patients. The number of individuals receiving care in our intensive care units or requiring ventilators is continuing to increase,” said Sarah Hackenbracht, president and CEO of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association.

She echoed the importance of keeping the surge from growing to more than the staff can handle.

“We have to make sure that we can care for every patient that walks through the door and to do that, we have to make sure we have the necessary staff available to treat everyone, whether they are coming in for care related to COVID or whether they are coming in because they had a car accident,” Hackenbracht said.


COVID-19 Testing

A COVID-19 pop-up testing site will be available from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10, at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, 645 Infirmary Road, Dayton.

Anyone can get a no-cost test at this location. No appointment is needed.

A health care provider’s referral is not needed. Quantities may be limited. Pop-up testing sites throughout Ohio are open to anyone. The other regional locations will be announced soon. More information is available at coronavirus.ohio.gov.