Hospital staff stretched thin as COVID-19 cases among employees continue to rise

Officials say this is only the start of what they expect to be a challenging coronavirus season.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Frontline workers are needed now more than ever as more patients are being hospitalized for COVID-19.

Hospitals across the Central Valley are seeing a surge and employees are worried as numbers continue to rise.

RELATED: California sees stunning rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, health secretary says

But resources are being stretched thin as the medical workers treating patients are becoming sick themselves.

"At first you couldn't name anyone that had COVID as a medical staff member, now you can identify 5 to 10 from every medical staff member. It is impacting our care provider in a different way than how it happened in July," says Dr. Jeffrey Thomas with Community Medical Center.

In early November, the COVID-19 dashboard for Community Medical Center showed 99 staff members were self-isolating while 45 tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Tuesday, the number has shot up to nearly 250 employees self-isolating, with 90 of them out with COVID-19.

St. Agnes Medical Center and Adventist Health officials are also seeing more employees getting sick.

"When that happens, they're out. It creates a shortage of staff that works harder and shorter," says Terry Boggess with the Adventist Health Central Valley Network.

Adds Dr. Lori Weichenthal of the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program: We can understand the disease better but if we don't have nurses and physicians to provide care, it doesn't matter."

But with the whole country dealing with a surge, finding extra help won't be easy.

"Traveling registered nursing are also in short supply. We do have some to support, but there are constraints and that's a national issue," says Nancy Hollingsworth with the St. Agnes Medical Center.

St. Agnes officials say they have an incident command center that helps redirect staffing if needed.

Fresno County EMS director Dan Lynch says they're in talks with the state on how they could obtain more staffing, and whether they may need to reopen the alternative care sites in Porterville and the Convention Center in Fresno soon.

"Once we use those resources, it's gone. So we need to open it once it's needed. We've gone outside California to contract with staffing modules to bring in to staff those facilities to not impact our resources," says Lynch.

As hospitals head into their most challenging season, they ask people to do their part by avoiding gatherings, getting a flu shot, and going to the hospital if they really need immediate care.
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