Hospitals prepare for potential staffing shortages in the case of COVID-19 winter surge

Updated: Nov. 22, 2020 at 11:32 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA) is urging healthcare systems across the state to come up with staffing plans should a COVID-19 winter spike exacerbate a shortage of frontline workers.

Lara Hewitt, VP of workforce with the SCHA, said the demand for registered nurses greatly outweighs the current supply and so, hospitals need to come up with creative solutions to alleviate nurse workloads in the case of a surge.

“We are in a global pandemic, because of that, that means we have to got to start thinking about how to use staff in some non-traditional ways,” Hewitt said. “So, it’s really just going through the list of all licensed and even some cases unlicensed professionals in the state and figuring out what their skill sets are.”

Some of the SCHA recommendations for hospitals include using certified medical assistants to give vaccines or partnering with paramedics to provide additional help at a patient’s bedside.

“That includes things like using critical care paramedics for their skill sets inside the hospital rather than outside where they can help with vent management and a lot of airflow type things,” Hewitt said. “They have just great critical care skills.”

Thomas Crawford, Chief Operating Officer with the Medical University of South Carolina, said preparing for staff shortages has been a top priority since the start of the pandemic.

“We’re prepared and we’ve been working on this. I have had some of the smartest people I know in the room with me seven days a week beginning in late February, early March,” Crawford said.

He said the hospital has a number of emergency staffing plans.

“If we have lower acuity patients in the ED, I can pull a family physician,” Crawford said. “We also know how to go into a team-based nursing model to extend the ability of our RNs and providing them support so that we can care for more patients.”

John Ciccone at Roper St. Francis hospital in Mount Pleasant said his critical staffing team has been working to combat the nursing shortage even before the pandemic began.

“We’ve never turned a patient away, we are able to accommodate them within the system, those efforts occur for recruiting every single day,” Ciccone said.

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