As COVID Surges Again In North Texas, Hospital Staff Are Exhausted And In Short Supply
As North Texas hospitals face another surge of COVID-19 patients, some say their biggest problem isn’t capacity. It’s a lack of staff, after eight grueling months battling the pandemic.
Dr. Joe Chang, chief medical officer at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, said he’ll run out of staff before he runs out of room.
“I have enough ventilators to fill up a warehouse. I can always create more space in the hospital with certain strategies. But what I cannot do is produce good nurses, and unfortunately they are in short supply everywhere,” Chang said.
Six weeks ago, Parkland had about 30 COVID patients, Chang said. On Tuesday, that number had gone up to about 150. On top of that, people who were reluctant to seek non-COVID medical care earlier in the pandemic have flowed back in.
Morale is low, Chang said. The patients just don’t stop coming.
“Every day we have physicians and nurses in break rooms crying from the sort of frustration and strain. It’s something that’s hard to understand if you’re not here every single day,” he said.
Parkland doesn’t have it as bad as other area hospitals, Chang said.
“Some of our sister hospitals in the city, they have more patients now than they ever have had, in terms of COVID,” he said. “They’re still not taking as many as I am, but at least we’re not at our peak. Other folks are past their peak.”
And this time, there are no reinforcements.
Stephen Love is the president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council. He said earlier in the pandemic, hospitals could call on traveling, temporary nurses to fill gaps in staffing — but that's a lot harder now.
“Everyone in the country right now is struggling with COVID-19, so there’s not a lot of what I would call excess staff that we can bring in,” he said.
A combination of factors will make things worse in the coming weeks, Love said. Colder weather is on its way. Kids are coming home from college for Thanksgiving, and people will have get-togethers.
Dr. Steven Davis, the chair of internal medicine at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, said the upcoming holiday season could make the pandemic much harder for hospitals to handle. People sitting around a table, eating with no masks, is a potential COVID nightmare.
“To be really blunt, I really want to avoid 2021 Thanksgiving being the remembrance of folks that didn’t survive the 2020 holiday season,” Davis said.
Chang and Love agree on one bright spot: Healthcare workers have gotten better at treating COVID-19 patients. Doctors have treatment options that they didn’t have in March, when the disease was new. Fewer people are dying.
Plus, there is hopeful news about a vaccine. Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna recently released early analyses showing that the vaccines they're developing are highly effective. Neither vaccine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Chang said hundreds of millions of Americans need to be vaccinated to achieve general immunity, and it will be a while before we get there.
In the meantime, he said the best thing people can do to support healthcare workers isn't to send food and flowers. Just don't get sick.
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