Christine McCormick 1/27/21 10:58 AM 9 min read

Hospitals Overwhelmed and Short-Staffed, Forcing Healthcare Rationing

Although healthcare workers have been working tirelessly to try to provide patient care during the coronavirus pandemic, the recent rise in COVID cases has left hospitals overwhelmed and short-staffed.

As COVID hospitalizations increase at drastic rates across the United States, many hospitals are facing staff shortages as their healthcare workers contract COVID themselves.

Even in hospitals where there are not many COVID cases among staff, there are simply not enough healthcare workers available to keep up with the ever-increasing number of patients.

Many healthcare facilities have had to shut down their surgical centers so that their staff can help these devastated hospitals. The University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, for example, has shut down its Sawgrass Surgical Center so that staff can assist at University of Rochester hospitals as COVID-19 cases continue to climb [1]. 

Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center in Anniston, Alabama, which has reported almost half of its inpatients are being treated for COVID related symptoms and complications, have followed suit [2]. In order to keep up with the increased need for ICU beds, the hospital converted its orthopedic, pediatric, and gynecology units into COVID units [2].

Even these changes haven’t been enough to combat the staggering number of COVID cases these hospitals are seeing. In Alabama, the number of COVID hospitalizations has nearly doubled since December, and hospitals are struggling to find the space, resources, and staff to treat COVID patients despite the best efforts of healthcare facilities like the Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center.

The Effects of Rising COVID Cases on Hospitals Facing Staff Shortages

In order to stay afloat amid staff shortages and the influx of COVID cases that are flooding hospitals, hospitals have to make tough choices like closing surgery centers and assigning more patients to each healthcare worker than usual. This has had dire consequences for hospitals, healthcare workers, and patients:

1. Lack of Elective Procedures

When healthcare facilities have to close their doors in order to provide assistance to nearby hospitals, it prevents individuals from receiving elective and nonessential procedures. Canceling elective procedures creates a backlog of patients, decreases revenue for hospitals, and leads to poor health outcomes for patients.

The term “elective” is a bit of a misnomer because it implies that these procedures are not necessary. This could not be further from the truth. Procedures like mastectomies that can prevent the spread of breast cancer or kidney donations that can keep patients off of dialysis are considered elective. While medical centers are halting elective surgeries so that staff can focus on saving the lives of COVID patients, patients that need these surgeries are dying or facing severe health outcomes.

When these hospitals and healthcare facilities can start offering elective surgeries again, there will be a backlog of patients waiting for these procedures which will overwhelm hospitals again and force patients to wait even longer to get the care they need.

Furthermore, as a result of canceled elective procedures, a record number of hospitals and healthcare facilities are facing financial hardships, and some have had to declare bankruptcy and close their doors for good. Elective procedures are a major source of revenue for hospitals, and without this income, many will not be able to survive for much longer.

Although postponing these procedures might not seem like a crisis, it has devastating consequences for hospitals and patients.

 

2. Change in Triage for Patient Care

Triage is the process of sorting patients based on their need for care. A patient who has a greater chance of dying or more severe COVID symptoms will be prioritized over a COVID patient who has a better chance of survival. 

When hospitals have thousands of patients to care for with a shortage of staff to provide treatment, healthcare workers are forced to ration life-saving care and triage to determine which patients should receive care first. 

This is the battle facing hospitals in Los Angeles County, which has seen massive increases in COVID cases in the past month. On December 20, Los Angeles County reported 6,018 COVID hospitalizations, an alarming 2.5% increase from the day prior [3]. Because of this, hospital guidelines ask healthcare workers to “save as many patients as possible versus trying everything to save a patient,” meaning patients with greater survival chances will not receive the same level of care they would otherwise [3].

This problem is not unique to Los Angeles County as many counties and cities across the nation are also using triage to ration patient care while experiencing significant rises in COVID cases. This is harmful not only to patients but also to healthcare workers.

When healthcare workers have the burden of making the difficult choice of who should get treatment first, it takes a toll on their mental health. With healthcare workers already facing anxiety due to staff shortages, intense work hours, and their high risk for COVID-19, the last thing they need is to deal with the pressure of making these often impossible decisions about patient care.

Healthcare rationing is not safe and it is not sustainable. While the vaccine rollout looks promising, hospitals need immediate solutions to relieve these shortages. 

 

Using the SCONE™ to Help Hospitals Survive the Coronavirus Pandemic

The SCONE™ is a disposable, single patient use medical device that is a critical part of infection prevention by minimizing risk for healthcare workers treating COVID patients. Keeping staff healthy is key to minimizing burnout and preventing short staffed facilities. Using negative pressure technology, the SCONE™ creates a chamber that can clear infectious COVID particles and droplets in under five minutes, serving as an active barrier of protection for patients and healthcare workers alike.

The SCONE™ reduces the need for frequent PPE changes and can be used during patient transport, aerosol generating procedures, and helping to improve throughput while minimizing the health risk for healthcare workers treating COVID patients.

Using the SCONE™ will decrease the number of healthcare workers who are unable to work due to contracting the virus and increase the efficiency and quality of patient care.

 

Hospitals are struggling right now, but they do not have to struggle forever. The SCONE™ can help eliminate healthcare rationing and provide the support hospitals need to fight against the coronavirus.

 

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Christine McCormick

Christine McCormick is an Operations and Marketing Manager with 10 years of experience working alongside and supporting leadership teams from various industries. She is new to the medical device space but brings a wealth of organizational, financial, and marketing expertise to SCONE in her current role. She was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona and graduated with a Bachelors from Northern Arizona University and currently lives with her high school sweetheart and their 3 children, ages 6-12 years old. She enjoys spending time with her family, going to the beach and Disneyland (when it's open), and watching Grey's Anatomy on repeat.