South Florida

Short-Staffed Emergency Rooms Struggle to Keep Up With Covid Surge

NBC Universal, Inc.

Simultaneously encouraging and discouraging is a good way to describe the current status of the Covid-19 pandemic on hospitals. The number of patients admitted with Covid-19 into South Florida hospitals is rising rapidly. For example, the Memorial Hospital System went from 40 to 240 Covid-19 patients in the last three weeks.

Statewide the number is 3,400 hospitalized with Covid-19, double the number from three weeks ago, but that’s still a far cry from the peak of the delta wave in August, when there were 17,000 Covid-19 patients being treated in Florida hospitals.

Another bright spot, according to doctors, is that so far, the omicron variant appears to cause less severe illness, so there are plenty of intensive care unit beds available in South Florida. 

It’s the emergency rooms and urgent care centers which are in critical condition. 

”I wouldn’t say that we’re overwhelmed. We are stretched,” said Dr. Lilly Lee, the chief of emergency medicine at Jackson Memorial Hospital. 

She says an additional 50 to 100 people are showing up at the emergency room every day with Covid-19 symptoms.

With hospital staff members testing positive at a high rate, forcing them to stay home for days, how do they keep the lights on? 

“It has been a challenge, and I must say I really appreciate our staff because they have all extended their work hours and have come in on their days off to cover for their colleagues,” said Dr. Lee. 

“Our biggest challenge remains the severity of our workforce shortage,” said Mary Mayhew, the president of the Florida Hospital Association, pointing out that all of the state’s hospitals are in the same boat. “Working diligently to recruit nurses, but we are definitely experiencing one of the worst workforce shortages that hospitals have experienced in decades.”

With fewer people on the job, it’s even more important that people who don’t have severe symptoms stay away from the emergency room. 

“What we don’t want to do is overwhelm the hospital and the medical system,” said Dr. Sergio Segarra, the chief medical officer of Baptist Hospital.

“If you have mild symptoms, please don’t come to the emergency department, please go get tested,” Dr. Lee said. 

Mayhew said hospitals are bracing for an increase in patients, and urged the public to help in keeping people out of the hospital. 

“The best defense is a vaccination, right, we want people to remember the vaccine will help reduce the severity of illness, keep people out of the hospital and save lives, that remains the most important priority,” Mayhew said.

Dr. Lee said the vast majority of the patients who are seriously ill from Covid-19 are either unvaccinated or immunocompromised.

Dr. Segarra added that unless a person has trouble breathing or a fever that won’t break, they should not clog up the system by going to the emergency room because it makes it hard to care for patients who have other emergencies.

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