U.S. hospitals say coronavirus school closures add to staffing pressure
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[March 14, 2020]
By Deena Beasley
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. hospitals,
gearing up for a large surge in patients as the new coronavirus spreads
throughout the country, are reaching out to temporary staff agencies and
exploring other ways to maintain workforce levels as school closures add
to pressure on doctors and nurses.
"The biggest issue right now is we need to plan for a logarithmic
increase in patient numbers," Dr. Jason Persoff, assistant director of
emergency preparedness at UCHealth, Colorado's largest health system.
"We are learning a lot from what happened in Washington state and in
Italy ... there are a lot of issues with childcare."
He said UCHealth is preparing for as many as 20 percent of its regular
staff not being able to work at one time or another throughout the
outbreak - the ultimate dimensions of which remain unknown.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday reported 1,629
cases of coronavirus, including 41 deaths.
U.S. hospitals have been advised by some statisticians to expect as many
as 96 million coronavirus cases in the next few months.
As of Friday afternoon, at least 21,900 U.S. kindergarten through high
schools have been closed or are scheduled to close, affecting at least
15 million students, according to trade publication Education Week.
There are 132,853 public and private schools in the United States and
almost 50.8 million students, according to the National Center for
"It used to be you could have grandma and grandpa step in and watch the
kids. But it turns out grandma and grandpa are the most vulnerable
population for this virus," Dr. Persoff said. He said some employees
have begun pooling nannies and babysitters, and that could become more
formalized if needed.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is a highly contagious
respiratory illness. Around 5 percent of infected individuals can
develop life-threatening symptoms that require extended hospitalization.
The elderly and people with underlying health conditions, such as
diabetes and heart disease, are most at risk.
"One of the larger concerns that we have is school closures ... that
could have a significant effect on staffing," Jeff Smith, chief
operating officer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where
the public school system announced on Friday plans to close for two
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He said Cedars is working with staffing agencies to try to make sure
its two hospitals have access to temporary nurses and other staff if
Healthcare professionals are already in high demand. The Association
of American Medical Colleges has projected a shortage of up to
122,000 physicians by 2032, and some studies estimate a shortage of
more than 200,000 nurses over a similar period.
Colorado's UCHealth has not reached the point where it needs to
bring in outside workers, but is looking at "creative options," such
as asking nursing students to work at a hospital or repurposing
staff from other areas for patient needs, Dr. Persoff said.
"For single-parent households this is a crisis situation ... at the
same time we are messaging that it is all hands on deck," he said.
In San Diego, where the public school system is set to close on
Monday, Scripps Health has contingency staffing plans that could
include shutting down some auxiliary clinics in order to move nurses
to other facilities, Chris Van Gorder, the hospital group's chief
executive, told Reuters.
"We have a largely female workforce," he explained. "In a disaster
situation, we would usually set up daycare for our employees, but we
canít do that with this situation."
Aya Healthcare, which fills short-term nursing assignments, on its
website said it is partnering with healthcare facilities across the
country, but most of its over 10,000 assignments do not currently
The staffing agency explains that some hospitals have already had to
quarantine staff who may have had contact with coronavirus patients.
"These hospitals now have needs to backfill core staff ... and are
offering higher compensation rates," it says.
(Reporting By Deena Beasley; editing by Diane Craft)
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