U.S. hospitals say they have been operating in ‘survival mode’ for the majority of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a new report released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general on Wednesday, medical centers said that staffing shortages have impacted patient care.
What’s more, the exhaustion of long shifts and dealing with multiple sick people – as well as the trauma of seeing patients die – has taken a toll on staff members’ mental health.
Hospital administrators say they have experienced challenges while distributing vaccines, including hesitancy among employees and members of the surrounding communities.
They are calling on the federal government for support including helping to fill in staffing gaps; sending financial, especially rural hospitals; and continuing to educate the public on how to prevent and treat COVID-19.
A report released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services found U.S. hospitals had been ‘significantly strained’ by the COVID pandemic. Pictured: Medical staff put on protective gear as they attend to patients with COVID-19 at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, November 2020
Hospitals said they struggled to balancing caring for COVID-19 patients and those admitted for routine care with about 40 hospitals and 56 ICUs reported operating at 90% or greater capacity
‘[Hospitals] reported challenges largely related to the ongoing intensity of having to deal with Covid for a year,’ Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general for evaluations and inspections, told CNN.
‘That has them grappling with challenges that were brought with Covid, but also exacerbated longstanding challenges in healthcare delivery, staffing, financial stability.
‘Then…you’ve got the added strain of the vaccination efforts, which are a new addition.’
For the report, the HHS surveyed 320 hospitals 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico from February 22 to February 26, 2021.
Interviews focused on three main subjects including the hospitals’ most difficult challenges responding to the pandemic, their biggest concerns in the future and the federal government can do to best support hospitals.
The hospitals painted a grim picture, revealing the ‘significant strains’ they have experienced in response to COVID-19 and its far-reaching implications.
One of the biggest challenges hospitals said they faced related to patient-care including treating critically ill coronavirus patients and those with long-term complications.
About 40 hospitals and 56 intensive care units (ICUs) reported operating at 90 percent or greater capacity at the time of the survey.
Additionally, hospitals struggled to balancing caring for COVID-19 patients and those admitted for routine care, sometimes delaying or foregoing standard appointments and procedures as a result of the pandemic.
There were also challenges when it came to staffing.
Increased work hours and responsibilities for staff led to exhaustion, PTSD and burnout, with many feeling forced to function in ‘survival mode.’ Pictured: A healthcare worker comforts a patient in the COVID-19 ward at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, December 2020
Administrators reported that the pandemic had led to increased work hours and responsibilities, which led to staff experiencing exhaustion and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from witnessing COVID-19-related deaths.
Mental and physical fatigue was also the result of staffing shortages due to high turnover, staff that became ill or staff that hd to quarantine due to possible exposure to the virus.
‘This [pandemic] has really burnt out the health care industry,’ one hospital president told the HHS, according to the report.
‘I am concerned about what we are going to do about making people want to go into health care as a profession.’
Coronavirus vaccines presented yet another challenge.
Some hospitals has to divert staff away from patient care to administer vaccines, which has ‘strained an already stressed system’ one administrator said in an interview.
Another administrator said that vaccination data had to be entered into three separate systems to meet federal state and local reporting requirements, which he or she characterized ‘cumbersome’ and ‘redundant.’
Other medical centers said they were having a hard time convincing staff to get vaccinated with some saying that at least one-third of their employees had declined to receive the vaccines at the time of the survey.
Some hospital complained they ere frustrated due to the unpredictable and insufficient supply of vaccines that sometimes led to patient appointments needing to be canceled.
‘There is far more capacity to vaccinate than there [are] available vaccine doses,’ on emergency management director told the HHS.
Some of the strategies hospital said the federal government could implement to address challengers include addressing staff shortages including burnout, supporting vaccination campaigns and helping hospital experiencing financial instability.