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California hospitals buckle under patient surge, sick staff

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

California hospitals are struggling to keep up with increasing COVID cases at the same time they’re facing staffing shortages.

California will likely surpass last winter’s peak of 53,000 hospitalized patients in “the next few days,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday, noting that around 12,300 of the 52,400 people currently in the hospital have tested positive for COVID.

His projection foreshadows even more stress for health care workers already at their breaking point. Today, members of the California Nurses Association are scheduled to hold rallies across the state to demand safe staffing levels and stronger workplace protections — and to denounce a new state rule allowing COVID-positive asymptomatic employees to keep working in facilities with critical staff shortages.

Workers say the rule has resulted in COVID-positive employees at some hospitals tending to vulnerable patients, including those undergoing chemotherapy and in neonatal intensive care.

But even with the rule, there still aren’t enough workers to go around as omicron spreads like wildfire. Staff shortages have forced many hospitals to begin delaying certain procedures — including lung transplants and brain surgery — and have also prompted clinics, labs and urgent care facilities to temporarily close or reduce their hours of operation.

Meanwhile, a nationwide blood shortage — one so dire that the American Red Cross is trying to entice donors with the chance to win Super Bowl tickets — forced a Los Angeles trauma center to close for several hours on Monday, the first time in more than three decades that such a step had to be taken. “That is not a situation we want to find ourselves in,” said Los Angeles County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly.

And another new state rule that requires all nursing home visitors — including those who are fully vaccinated — to provide a negative COVID test result within 24 or 48 hours is spurring backlash from some advocates and family members.

On top of all that, COVID is ripping through California’s juvenile prisons, where 20% of youth currently have the virus and at least one was recently hospitalized for severe symptoms, CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons reports.

Copyright 2022 | CalMatters