Some US hospitals forced to ration care amid staff shortages and COVID-19 outbreak


September 17 (Reuters) – The rise in the number of coronavirus cases in several US states this week, along with staff and equipment shortages, is taking a growing toll on hospitals and their workers even as the number new admissions nationwide are declining, resulting in warnings at some facilities such care would be rationed.

Montana, Alaska, Ohio, Wisconsin and Kentucky saw the largest increases in new hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the week ending September 10 compared to the previous week, with new hospitalizations in Montana increasing by 26%, according to the latest report from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on September 14.

In Alaska, the influx is so large that the state’s largest hospital is no longer able to provide life-saving care to every patient who needs it due to the influx of COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to an open letter from the medical executive committee of Providence Alaska Medical Center this week.

“If you or your loved one needs specialist care in Providence, such as a cardiologist, trauma surgeon or neurosurgeon, unfortunately we have no room now,” the letter said. “There are no more staffed beds.”

Some hospital workers have become so overwhelmed by the new wave of COVID-19 cases – a year and a half after the pandemic first reached the United States – that they have left for retail jobs and in other non-medical areas, Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety for the American Hospital Association, told Reuters.

At the same time, the distribution and other problems are leaving some hospitals short of the oxygen they desperately need to help patients who have trouble breathing, Foster said.

The hospital association hosted a webinar for its members on how to conserve oxygen on Friday, an effort to cope with a 200% increase in demand at many hospitals, she said.

“There is a shortage of qualified drivers to carry oxygen and a shortage of tanks needed to transport it,” Foster added.

While there are some groundbreaking cases among the vaccinated, Foster said most hospitalizations were in unvaccinated people.


On September 16, 1,855 Americans died from COVID-19 and 144,844 new cases were reported, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county data. Both trendlines have increased in the United States overall since they hit their lows this summer in July and June, respectively.

New hospital admissions continue to increase in several predominantly rural and Midwestern states, even as the number of COVID-19 patients admitted daily to hospitals across the United States fell to approximately 10,685 on September 14 after reaching about 13,028 in late August, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“Although our hospital was Kentucky’s zero point for the start of the pandemic 18 months ago, this week we are hit by a wave of COVID like never before since the start of the pandemic,” said Dr. Stephen Toadvine , general manager of Harrison Memorial Hospital, in a statement posted on the Kentucky State website. He added that patients seeking emergency care in Kentucky hospitals who are being treated for COVID-19 are at an all time high.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said on Thursday the Commonwealth would soon run out of a key treatment for COVID-19 – the use of monoclonal antibodies – and the federal government also recently announced a national shortage.

Since May, the number of COVID-19 cases in hospitals run by the University of Wisconsin’s UW Health system has quadrupled, Dr Jeff Pothof said in an interview.

Emergency rooms are so full that doctors have to look for rooms for their patients at other facilities, he said, a trend seen in other states, including Florida.

“For the first time in my career, we are at the point where all patients in need will not receive the care we wish we could provide,” Dr. Shelly Harkins, Chief Medical Officer and President of St. Peter’s Health in Helena, MT said Thursday in a video ad.

In West Virginia, COVID-19-related hospitalizations this week are well above their previous peak of 815, from 852 Monday to 922 Friday, said Jim Kaufman, president and CEO of the West Virginia Hospital Association.

State hospitals also face severe staff shortages, resulting in fewer patients treated and delays in elective care.

Small hospitals send patients to larger hospitals that can accommodate them, Kaufman said. In Oklahoma, new hospitalizations were down 11% in the week ending Sept. 10 from the previous week, but 35% of state hospitals are reporting a staffing shortage, according to the CDC.

Reporting by Julia Harte in New York, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California, Maria Caspani in New York and Deena Beasley in Los Angeles. Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New Jersey and Anurag Maan in Bengaluru; Editing by Aurora Ellis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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