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Health care system hit with widening staffing shortages as workers get coronavirus

Emily Alpert Reyes, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

Besides having to isolate if they test positive, health care workers also have to stay home to care for family members, said Larry Kidd, chief clinical officer at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.

"Many hospitals are seeing an increase in COVID infections among children — so parents have to be home to take care of them as well," Kidd said.

Nurses make up the biggest category among L.A. County health care workers and first responders who have tested positive over the course of the pandemic, county data show. Catherine Kennedy, one of the presidents of the California Nurses Assn., said that even before the latest surge, the staffing issues among nurses are "a crisis that the health care industry created."

"Can it be remedied? I think so," Kennedy said. She argued that hospitals need to improve working conditions and ensure nurses are properly supplied. "Provide us with optimal PPE. Ensure that there's testing."

Huntington and some other local hospitals now warn on their websites to expect longer waits at the emergency room. Palms resident Megan Talmadge said she dislocated her elbow in the afternoon on New Year's Day and waited five hours at a Culver City ER before getting an X-ray. After the X-ray, Talmadge said she asked for medication because "the pain was becoming excruciating."

"They said, 'No, sorry, there's no nurses available,' and just sent me back out to the waiting room," Talmadge said.

 

It took roughly two more hours to get pain medication, Talmadge said. The 30-year-old eventually got a bed, was treated for her injury and left after 1 a.m. — more than nine hours after arriving, she said.

"They were clearly understaffed," Talmadge said. "There were times when it just seemed like no one was there."

Shortages also show up in smaller ways: Lisa Berry Blackstock, a private patient advocate, said that in the San Fernando Valley, one of her clients was recently supposed to be moved into a different room closer to the nurses' station after falling out of bed. When she phoned to confirm the patient had been moved, Blackstock said she was told that "they didn't have enough staff members to accommodate the transfer."

At Kaiser Permanente Southern California, swelling demand for coronavirus testing has collided with a shrinking number of staffers to handle them, slowing down turnaround times, said Dr. Nancy Gin, its regional medical director for quality.

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