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Employee Burnout and Staffing Shortage Prompt Summa Health to Cut Capacity, Halt Some Procedures

Summa Health St. Thomas Campus
Summa Health
Summa Health officials say the hospital system would adjust the combined inpatient bed capacity at Akron and Barberton hospitals from 551 to about 430 by Oct. 24.

Summa Health is reducing inpatient beds at its Akron and Barberton hospitals by 22% and suspending some elective surgeries. The hospital system announced the news in a memo to staff Monday, saying the change would help with worker burnout and staffing shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Summa Health officials said the hospital system would adjust the combined inpatient bed capacity at Akron and Barberton hospitals from 551 to about 430 by Oct. 24. The change in bed capacity will not affect St. Thomas Hospital, which treats behavioral health patients. 

"They decreased their number of beds for capacity for a couple reasons. One is just patient safety and the number of people that they had to staff those beds," said Dr. Robert Wyllie, who leads Ohio's Zone One, one of the emergency regions set up by the state for hospital systems to share resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zone One includes counties in Northern Ohio, including Cuyahoga County in Region 2 and Summit County in Region 5. 

map of emergency regions in Ohio
Ohio Department of Health
This map shows how the state is broken up into different emergency regions. Zone One includes Regions 1, 2, and 5.

Wyllie said Region 5 has nearly 800 COVID-19 cases, which means about 20 percent of the total for the state is in that region, and hospitals there have about 20 percent of the total number of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) patients. 

"As your ratio of nurses to patients gets too high, then you start to worry about can you deliver the quality of care that you need to deliver to make sure the patients are safe," Wyllie said. 

Being above a normal nurse-to-patient ratio could not only impact patient safety, but also the mental health of providers, Wyllie said. 

"It's not only Region 5 and Summa feeling that pressure, though, but it's actually in the state of Ohio, almost all the hospital systems are feeling some of that pressure," he said. 

Summa Health will also temporarily stop scheduling some elective procedures. Wyllie said the Cleveland Clinic has also reduced elective procedures at its hospitals in Region 5. 

"We're managing it day by day. We have reduced some elective surgeries at Union Hospital, which is in Region 5, and Mercy-Canton, which is in Region 5," Wyllie said. 

COVID-19 cases do seem to peaking though, Wyllie said. 

"We're probably near the peak of the hospital load right now," he said. "We anticipate that it may plateau, and we anticipate it starting to drop within the next couple of weeks."

That's dependent on not having outbreaks from kids going back to school, he said. 

Although COVID-19 cases are plateauing, worker shortages and other virus outbreaks are  factors to consider as well, said Dr. Claudia Hoyen, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital

"Even if the cases are still plateauing doesn't mean we're out of the woods," Hoyen said. "Even though it may be plateauing, we were already stretched going into this."

Hospital systems across the state have been struggling through the surge, Hoyen said, with hospitals operating over their normal baseline. 

And Hoyen warns of a potential "twindemic" if we see flu and COVID-19 cases spike at the same time this winter. 
Copyright 2021 WCPN. To see more, visit WCPN.

Lisa Ryan is a health reporter at Ideastream Public Media.