RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – After a year in “survival mode” hospitals across the country are getting a better picture of the full impacts of the pandemic.
A new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services outlines challenges they’ve faced in providing healthcare, staffing, vaccinations and finances. The information comes from a survey published from the Office of Inspector General. Responses were collected from more than 300 hospitals, four of which were in North Carolina.
The report said hospitals have had to manage the difficult task of balancing their normal health services along with treating COVID-19 patients. While they have been overrun by COVID-19 patients, other patients have delayed care. It has the ability to make a patient’s health conditions worse.
Tatyana Kelly, vice president of planning strategy and member services with the North Carolina Healthcare Association, says it can have a larger impact on the entire health care system.
“That puts a strain on the system because it’s harder to help them. It’s harder to get them well because you’re starting off from a worse place than if you were seeking care earlier,” Kelly said.
Kelly said some people may still be concerned about contracting COVID-19 at a healthcare facility.
“Those are some of the safest places to be. If anything, I would encourage people who may have been delaying care, to call their doctor,” Kelly said.
Burn out and trauma
On top of routine care, the pandemic piled COVID-19 testing and vaccination on staff. Along with treating very sick and many cases dying patients, it’s pushed hospital staff to their limit.
A shortage of nurses prior to the pandemic exasperated the issue.
“They’ve been working hard, harder than they ever have been for almost a year and that takes a toll on your emotional well-being, your physical well-being,” Kelly said.
Overworking of staff has resulted in a high turnover that in some cases impacted patient care. The report reads, “Representatives from one hospital network reported that it had seen an increase in central line infections, which can be life-threatening. They attributed the increase in these infections to not having sufficient staff and reported that staff’s fatigue led to process failures.”
Kelly said in some cases the pandemic has made people re-think a career in healthcare. She said that may be balanced out by others who are inspired to join the field after seeing the difference that healthcare professionals have made.
“The staff that we do have, we need to take care of. The staff that we have are tired, they’re exhausted, they’re under mental strain, they’re under physical strain and they’ve been at it for a year,” Kelly said.
A piling on of tasks
While vaccinations were seen as a positive step for hospitals, they reported it was another task hospitals staff are being asked to fulfill.
“That’s what we’re great at as hospitals is rising up to a challenge and addressing a crisis in our communities,” said Kelly.
The added duties of running COVID-19 ICUs, testing sites, and vaccination clinics have increased the cost of running health care centers. Trying to provide appropriate an appropriate amount of PPE has also eaten into budgets. At the same time, if people are delaying visits to their doctor, it means there’s less money coming in.
Looking ahead, Kelly said hospitals still have to worry about a myriad of issues.
The country has been impacted in a number of ways. They along with healthcare staff will have increased needs to address and mental behavioral health.
Patients who continue to have COVID-19 complications will need the help of specialists to try to return to their normal level of health. Along with them, non-COVID-19 patients who delayed health may face more complex health concerns.
Through it all, healthcare workers will continue to face these issues head-on. Kelly said if you know a nurse, respiratory specialist, or any other medical worker, tell them, thank you.
“It’s been a hard year for them too and their community support has meant everything to them. “