COVID patients overwhelm hospitals, causing staffing issues

Posted at 5:20 PM, Dec 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-23 17:34:00-05

WESTMINSTER, Md (WMAR) — More than 1,500 Marylanders are now hospitalized with COVID-19. It’s causing a major strain on hospitals that are trying to their best to keep up by limiting or delaying elective surgeries, or shifting staff from non-essential duties.

However, hospital officials said at this rate, sometime soon, they are going to run out of staff and beds.

“The past few weeks have been frustrating, exhausting and at times sole-sapping,” said Dr. Mark Olszyk, the Chief Medical Officer for Carroll Hospital. “I’ve never seen a medical staff so spent, so weary.”

Dr. Olszyk said the onslaught of COVID patients recently has stretched resources so thin. They now have 60 COVID patients compared to a low of 9 at the beginning of November.

“We had about 200 patients at one point last week. We only have 200 beds in the hospital so if we go beyond that number, there’s literally no beds to put the patients in,” said Dr. Olszyk. “But what we will run out of first are the staffing capabilities so nurses, respiratory therapists, transporters, and unfortunately now they’re beginning to fall ill so we’ve seen a higher number of staff sick and quarantined with COVID than before.”

To keep up with the patient load, they’ve had to close some of their outpatient services to shift staff.

“Some of the rehab, the wound care, some of the education and wellness, even some administrative positions who are clinicians, we’ve shifted them back into inpatient care,” said Dr. Olszyk.

Statewide. hospitals are spending extraordinary sums to fill gaps with temporary staff.

“There’s kind of a nationwide bidding war going on and so it’s costing sometimes 3-4 times what a normal hourly nursing wage would be,” said Bob Atlas, the Maryland Hospital Association President and CEO.

Along with limiting or delaying elective surgeries, hospitals are focusing on the most severe patients first, like those who are having heart attacks or strokes or women in labor.

It means wait times are getting longer for less severe patients, and for everyone the ratios of caregivers may be higher.

“Instead of taking care of two or three patients, a nurse might have to take care of four or five,” said Dr. Olszyk.

While the hospitals do what they can, they’re asking Marylanders to do what we can: wear a mask, limit holiday gatherings and above all get vaccinated or boosted.

At Carroll Hospital, of their 60 COVID patients, 50 are unvaccinated and only two have gotten boosters.

Gov. Larry Hogan said the 9% of unvaccinated Marylanders account for 75% of the state’s COVID hospitalizations.

“We seriously do not want to get to a point where we have to decide who gets care and who doesn’t,” said Atlas.

Another way Atlas said people can help hospitals and save themselves time too I avoid the emergency room if possible. Instead, try to use a primary care doctor, urgent care or telehealth and do not us the ERs for COVID testing.