Alabama Hospital Association warns of coming staffing crisis

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala – Alabama health officials warn hospitals could face a crisis as COVID-19 cases surge.

The most recent data shows more than 2,000 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized across Alabama.
628 of those patients are in the intensive care unit, leaving only 87 ICU beds available statewide. 318 COVID-19 patients are on ventilators.

Dr. Don Williamson, Alabama Hospital Association President, says he expects the cases to continue to spike. His biggest concerns are having enough hospital staff to treat patients and how the Delta variant is affecting different demographics of the populations than previous strains of the virus.

“I’m much more worried now than I was in January about the impact on the hospitals because I don’t see anything to stop this,” said Dr. Don Williamson, Alabama Hospital Association President.

Huntsville Hospital system reported 35 COVID-19 patients on July 7th. Tuesday, August 10, it has 266 COVID patients, marking a 660 percent increase in a month. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients increased by more than 2,000 across the state in the past 30 days.

At its peak in January, there were 3,000 COVID-19 inpatients in Alabama. But Williamson warns the current numbers will rise.

“The previous variant probably infected two people for every person who had it. This one infects 8 people,” Williamson explained “There’s some models out there that put us somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 patients.”

Staffing shortages were an issue for hospitals during the January surge. It’s a problem that has only gotten worse over the past several months.

“I’m not sure given some other issues that we could even manage the 3,000 that we had last January,” Williamson said.

Williamson says nurses have left for higher-paying traveling positions or left the industry altogether. There are also those who are quarantined after being infected out in the community.

“The rate-limiting fact will be staff,” he stated. “We have less staff now than we did then.”

He says it’s too early to tell if the Delta variant is more deadly than other strains. He is concerned about the age range of COVID-19 patients coming into the hospital. They’re much younger.

“Talking to people in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, their pediatric hospitals are overwhelmed,” he said.

There are 33 pediatric COVID-19 inpatients across the state. In January, that number was closer to 10 or 12. Williamson says it’s time to start paying attention.

Williamson urges people who haven’t done so yet, to get vaccinated. He also recommends everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear face coverings in indoor public areas and avoid large gatherings.

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