HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — North Alabama hospitals are dealing with a triple crisis: flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19. However, the biggest challenge may be staffing.

The problem isn’t going away. Reports say some hospitals have even turned patients away due to those staffing issues.

The Alabama Hospital Association (AHA) told News 19 that hospitals are nowhere near as overwhelmed as they were earlier in the pandemic, but they’re by no means back to normal staffing either.

Many hospitals are still relying on traveling nurses to function while some are reportedly resuming patient transfers to other hospitals in the state.  

Dr. Don Williamson, CEO of the Alabama Hospital Association, describes the staffing conundrum as a multi-layered problem with short-term and long-term issues.  

“Folks need to get vaccinated and the long-term is getting people interested in entering the healthcare field,” he explained.

That’s been easier said than done — but what is causing the latest staffing issues? It could be the massive flu and respiratory illness surge that started months before the typical seasonal outbreak and an uptick in COVID-19 cases.  

“We continue to have units in their hospitals that remain closed and while staffing is certainly not as bad as it was during the height of the COVID pandemic, we have certainly not returned to anything approaching normal,” Williamson continued.

Williamson has seen this before. Hospital staffing shortages ultimately limit the number of available beds and result in longer wait times in the emergency room. The flu outbreak may be exasperating the issue.  

“The fact that it’s occurring earlier I’m not sure if this is going to be an early season that we get rid of and we move on, or if it’s going to look more like our normal seasons,” Williamson concluded. “We stretched this out into February in which case we could have a substantial impact on hospitalizations due to influenza during a long flu season.” 

The Huntsville Hospital system alone lists over 1,000 open positions available through the Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) as hospitals compete for qualified applicants.