"These are numbers and challenges that we've just not seen before and our concern is that these numbers are just the beginning," said Dr. Peter Dillon of Penn State Health as this week doctors and nurses from across the region are sounding the alarm over rapidly rising COVID-19 cases that are putting Pennsylvania hospitals to the test.
"Even with the preparations that we have every health system, every hospital is being challenged and we're no different," said Dillon.
Many medical professionals claim the alarming number of COVID-19 cases they braced for in the spring are actually happening now. The concern was also raised as the Governor and the Pennsylvania Health Secretary held a press conference on Monday to emphasize the staffing shortages many hospitals are facing along with decreasing numbers of ICU beds.
A dashboard that tracks hospitals in Pennsylvania shows that two regions in the state, the Southwest and Keystone regions, are experiencing a 'staffing crisis.' In Pennsylvania a staffing crisis is defined as having 33% or more hospitals in the region that anticipate staffing shortages within the next week.
"We have shortened the quarantine periods for our employees from 14-days to 10-days and soon 7-days so that staff without COVID symptoms can return to work more quickly," said Leslie Davis, Executive Vice President of UPMC.
UPMC credits its large health system with the ability to shuffle resources where needed as it cares for more than 1100 COVID-19 patients. Right now, it is not making changes to planned procedures. But, it is reopening beds and it has brought in nearly 200 nurses in the past week to provide additional staffing as it expands its hours.
Wellspan Health, meantime, has reduced elective procedures and some outpatient services to free up staff. It's caring for more than 400 COVID-19 patients that account for 33% of its hospitalizations.
Wellspan Health spokesperson Ryan Coyle tells FOX43 it is "actively recruiting temporary staff for both the influx of patients into our hospitals and to assist in administering the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available."
Penn State Health has around 196 COVID-19 patients.
"Our nurses and other care team members are the heart of our health system and pivotal members of our care teams during a pandemic. With the sharp increase in hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in recent weeks, WellSpan is actively recruiting temporary staff for both the influx of patients into our hospitals, and to assist in administering the COVID-19 vaccine, when it becomes available. We are considering individuals from a wide range of professional backgrounds qualified to support that vaccination effort. It is our goal that these efforts to increase staffing will provide some measure of relief to our frontline caregivers. Recruitment will be taking place on multiple fronts both internally and externally. We invite external candidates to visit www.JoinWellSpan.org/COVID-19/ to learn more," said Coyle.
"Our hospital and health system leaders have worked tirelessly to find innovative ways to expand COVID-19 units at our hospitals to accommodate the increasing number of patients. Not all COVID-19 patients require ICU care, but the sheer volume of COVID-19 patients seeking care is increasing at a steep rate. As of yesterday, we are caring for 418 COVID positive patients—that’s ~33 percent of all hospitalized patients."
"WellSpan has adjusted some surgery and procedure schedules and reduced some outpatient services, such as pain, sleep and laboratory services, to free up staff to assist in the hospital. While helpful, those steps aren't sufficient given the surge we are experiencing. That's why we concluded it was time to postpone some non-lifesaving elective surgeries & procedures in targeted locations across our regions and to redeploy staff from the surgery centers to our acute care hospitals. These changes include:
• reducing the amount of elective procedures at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital, moving some cases to the Himelfarb Surgery Center.
• temporarily closing the operating rooms at WellSpan Waynesboro Hospital.
• reducing the amount of elective procedures at the Apple Hill Surgery Center in York, maximizing resources from the WellSpan Health & Surgery Center.
• temporarily converting WellSpan Surgery & Rehabilitation Hospital in York to an acute care hospital; staff will be redeployed from Apple Hill to staff the additional acute care beds.
• temporarily closing the Surgery Center adjacent to WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon County.
We also are opening alternative care sites for COVID-19 patients who require care beyond their hospital stay. The first of those locations opened on Monday in Lancaster County. WellSpan Hospital at Home, a service that allows WellSpan to care for patients with low complexity conditions in their own homes through a combination of visiting nurses, nurse practitioners, and physicians, connected Remote Patient Monitoring devices (e.g. blood pressure cuff), and video visits will be expanded across all of our regions. Our Arches to WellSpan recuperative care program will be expanded across all regions as well, providing patients a short-term place to heal with room and meals provided. Several area organizations have given us beds, space and staff to care for those patients who don’t need acute hospitalization any longer – they include Hospice and Community Care on Good Drive in Lancaster, The Hunter Group, Bailey’s Coach and Health Transport.
Our team remains committed to caring for friends and neighbors as a trusted partner, but we need the public’s help. Now is the time to slow the spread of the virus – before it overwhelms our healthcare heroes – and we aren’t able to fulfill our mission to the community. Everyone should be wearing a mask, washing hands and practice social distancing. It is the only way we know to stop the spread, slow the infection rate and ensure the worst of this pandemic is actually behind us."
Penn State Health
As of Wednesday morning the following cases were reported at Penn State Health:
Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center: 86 COVID inpatients
Penn State Health Holy Spirit Medical Center: 77 COVID inpatients
Penn State Health St. Joseph: 33 COVID inpatients
Systemwide there are 196 COVID inpatients.
Those patient numbers account for around 10% of patient capacity at Hershey Medical Center, 30% at St. Joseph, and about 25% at Holy Spirit.
"Across the UPMC system in the U.S., we are treating 1,191 inpatients who are positive for COVID-19: 447 are in southwestern Pennsylvania; 120 are in northcentral Pennsylvania; 246 are in southcentral Pennsylvania; 144 are in northwestern Pennsylvania and New York; and 234 are in the Altoona region and Maryland. Because of our extensive planning and preparation, UPMC facilities are safe, and staff are well-equipped and know how to properly care for patients with COVID-1," said UPMC spokesperson Kelly McCall.
"UPMC did host a press briefing yesterday where leaders provided an overview of how UPMC is managing the increasing number of cases. It can be viewed here: https://www.upmc.com/coronavirus/news
UPMC hospitals are providing all services, our Emergency Departments are open and we are prepared to care for all patients. Our hospital census fluctuates continuously as inpatients are admitted and discharged around the clock, and we are able to adjust accordingly.
As Leslie Davis shared at yesterday’s press briefing, we’ve found opportunities to quickly add additional beds across our system, and we’ve brought in nearly 200 nurses in the past week to provide additional staffing support, in addition to expanding the hours of our flex-time staff.
At UPMC, we haven’t had the need to change planned procedures. Deciding to postpone a scheduled procedure is a complex decision best made between each patient and their physician, rather than broadly mandated. Some procedures, if delayed, could put the patient in harm’s way.
We have plans if that becomes necessary, but it has not been necessary at this time."