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Staffing shortages take toll on Alabama hospitals

Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 5:49 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 6, 2022 at 6:15 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The Alabama Hospital Association said right now, there are hospitals in the state with more critical staffing shortages than we saw back in August and September.

It’s creating challenges for the healthcare system.

The situation is so dire that at least one hospital system in the state is trying to figure out how they can use telemedicine to take care of patients since so many physicians are out with COVID.

“We have hospitals where we have literally hundreds of employees of all sorts who are unable to work at this point, and at some hospitals, it is not only their nursing staff or their dietary staff, it’s some of their physician’s staff,” said President of the Alabama Hospital Association, Dr. Don Williamson.

He said Alabama hospitals were already overwhelmed with patients when the highly contagious Omicron variant showed up further taxing the system.

Dr. Williamson said an unprecedented number of healthcare workers are out sick with COVID and the CDC’s new isolation guidance is the only reason some hospitals are staying afloat.

“It’s a function of what your staffing situation is to begin with, and it’s a function of what the clinical condition is of the employee as to when you can bring them back. I will tell you we, in talking to some hospitals today, if it were not for the ability to return employees to work after five days in the appropriate circumstances, our staffing situation in some hospitals would already be untenable,” Dr. Williamson explained.

He said healthcare workers are only able to come back if they are well and meet certain criteria.

They must also continue to mask up.

Dr. Williamson said patients shouldn’t worry that they won’t get the care they need in an emergency, but should be prepared for delays in treatment, or the possibility of being treated somewhere else.

“People ought to understand that while hospitals have great ability to flex and to enhance their capacity, the rate-limiting factor in that ability to expand is staffing and we are in a very, very difficult situation. It is quite possible that some patients may find themselves being moved from one hospital to another hospital based upon staffing ability. You may have longer waits in the ED. So, this is going to be a challenge,” Dr. Williamson said.

Dr. Williamson added that we all need to do our part to help the healthcare system.

He’s encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and boosted and stay out of emergency rooms unless you have a serious medical situation.

And if you must attend a large gathering indoors, he suggests wearing a mask.

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