Hospital Staffing Shortage Is Primary Concern For Ohio COVID-19 Fight

Gov. Mike DeWine addresses the public during a coronavirus press briefing. [Office of Gov. Mike DeWine]
Gov. Mike DeWine addresses the public during a coronavirus press briefing. [Office of Gov. Mike DeWine]

Updated: 4:01 p.m., Monday, Nov. 9, 2020

A lack of available staff could greatly impact the care hospitals are able to provide for both coronavirus patients and anyone else in need of hospital services, said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, incoming chief medical director of the Ohio Department of Health Monday.

Hospital challenges have changed throughout the course of the pandemic.

In the spring, one of the biggest concerns for hospitals was a shortage of personal protective equipment. Now, Ohio hospitals say they have enough supplies, but there are worries about staffing shortages.

“We are seeing in the state an unprecedented spike in hospital utilization,” Vanderhoff said.

The state is divided into three coronavirus care zones, and the leaders of each zone said at a Monday press that health care providers are primarily catching coronavirus from community spread, not from hospitals or their workplaces.

When health care providers are exposed, they aren’t able to work and that means fewer people to care for patients, Vanderhoff said, warming that if Ohio’s community spread isn’t controlled within the next few weeks, less urgent care may have to be postponed in order to care for the sickest patients.

The doctors say the cutback on less urgent procedures will not happen immediately, and it may be a matter of each hospital making decisions based on their capacity.

In mid-March, elective surgeries and procedures in Ohio were halted under a statewide health order as part of the effort to keep health care staff and equipment available for coronavirus response; elective procedures resumed in late April, though doctors and patients were urged to consider both the health and virus-exposure risks involved.

“The number of hospital cases in our community is doubling every three weeks,” said Dr. Richard Lofgren, president and CEO of UC Health. The state can clamp down a bit on mass gatherings, he added, but reducing the spread at events like Thanksgiving comes down to personal choices.

“If you have new friends come into your house, they need to put on a mask,” Lofgren said. “Your house is not somehow magically safe from the spread and so I think that that's the mindset that we have to get people to recognize.”

The doctors said hospitals have enough personal protective equipment, beds and ventilators.

Cleveland Clinic Chief and Zone 1 lead Dr. Robert Wyllie said Northeast Ohio region is doing well so far, in spite of the spike in cases, and he's optimistic about a vaccine.

“We have beds. We have enough PPE supplies. We have enough drugs like a Remdesivir and we have enough ventilators,” Wyllie said. “We're using about 10 percent of the hospital beds for COVID patients and the total number of beds being utilized right now is between 70 and 75 percent. In the intensive care unit, we're using about 13 or 14 percent of the beds.”

There will be a vaccine available soon, he said, but everyone needs to wear masks, avoid gatherings and keep up best cleaning practices until the vaccine is available.

Vaccinations are likely to be available in four to six months, Wyllie said.

ideastream's Glenn Forbes contributed to this report.

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