US Hospitals Endure Growing Surge Of Patients With Dwindling Staff


By Jessica Glenza

A new ad campaign from more than 100 of the nation’s health systems beseeches the American public to wear masks. The campaign includes both print advertising and a black and white video showing photographs of exhausted healthcare workers.

The ad ends with a simple message – “Wear. A. Mask.” – one that captures the frustration and anxiety of health workers who feel the public is ignoring their pleas to work together to slow the spread of Covid-19. Together, the signatories represent thousands of individual hospitals.

More than 11.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and more than 250,000 have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. More than 76,000 people are hospitalized, the highest number of the entire pandemic, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

“As the top nationally-ranked hospitals, we know it’s tough that we all need to do our part and keep wearing masks. But, here’s what we also know: The science has not changed. Masks slow the spread of Covid-19,” the PSA reads.

“So, please join us as we all embrace this simple ask: Wear. Care. Share with #MaskUp. Together, wearing is caring. And together, we are saving lives.”

The ad comes just before the Thanksgiving holiday, when families traditionally gather indoors, and when many health experts worry will lead to an explosion of new Covid-19 cases. It also comes nearly a year into the pandemic, with healthcare workers facing severe burnout.

“We are depressed, disheartened and tired to the bone,” said Alison Johnson, director of critical care at Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, adding that she drives to and from work some days in tears.

Even before holiday gatherings, the pandemic is the worst it has ever been in many parts of the country. A hospital in Reno, Nevada moved some coronavirus patients into its parking garage. Hospitals in Kansas have converted cafeterias and chapels into patient care units.

“We are pushing ourselves to the limit and still not having time to provide the level of care our patients deserve and need,” said nurse Zo Schmidt, at a protest in Overland Park, Kansas this week.

Schmidt’s hospital, part of the for-profit hospital group HCA Healthcare, cut staffing in June to what the union National Nurses United described as “unsafe” levels. “During a historical pandemic, we need more nurses, not fewer. I’ve seen a mass exodus of nurses, and more are planning to leave,” said Schmidt.

Nursing shortages are gripping regions of the country with the most out of control spread – such as in North Dakota where 91% of intensive care unit beds are occupied, and 35% of facilities are reporting a “critical nursing shortage”, according to the Covid Exit Strategy project.

Texas health authorities are paying prisoners $2 per hour to help transport deceased victims of Covid-19.

Another Kansas nurse, Cheyanne Seematter, said: “It kind of feels like we’re just, you know, yelling into the abyss,” as healthcare workers beg Americans to keep the virus under control. “We keep telling everybody to stay home, wear a mask, that it is actually bad here.”

The worsening pandemic comes during a transition of power in Washington DC. The Trump administration has refused to concede and begin a transition with President-elect Joe Biden, a delay which could hurt virus control measures.

At the same time, two pharmaceutical companies have raised hopes that safe and effective vaccines are on the horizon, though they will come too late to aid health workers and patients suffering in hospitals at capacity.

In Idaho, chief medical officer of St Luke’s Health System Dr Jim Souza said his hospital is considering “rationing” care, because there are not enough staff and beds for all patients. He said it was a first in his time as a doctor.

“Never in my career did I think we would even contemplate the idea of rationing care in the United States of America,” said Souza.


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