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‘An unprecedented crisis’ at hospitals in RI amid COVID surge, staff shortage

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Leaders at Rhode Island’s two largest hospital groups say they are continuing to struggle with what one called “an unprecedented crisis” amid a surge in coronavirus cases and a shortage of staff.

Rhode Island set an all-time record for new COVID-19 cases on Monday, with over 2,300 people testing positive, as the Delta and Omicron variants circulate amid holiday gatherings and colder weather.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is hovering around 300 patients, below the peak of over 500 seen last year. But hospital leaders say their capacity is far lower, too, because of a major reduction in staff numbers.

The current level of COVID hospitalizations “is crushing a system that could not keep up before this surge,” tweeted Dr. Jay Schuur, an emergency doctor at Rhode Island Hospital and chair of the emergency medicine department at Brown University’s medical school.

Dr. G. Dean Roye, acting incident commander at Rhode Island Hospital parent Lifespan, pleaded for patience from members of the public seeking care. Its other hospitals are Miriam, Bradley and Newport.

“We are experiencing significant overcrowding in our hospitals – specifically delays for care in our EDs and our ICUs are at capacity — due to crisis staffing levels, as many healthcare workers have left the workforce due to burnout from the ongoing pandemic,” Roye said. “Lifespan, like many other health systems, is severely short-staffed as a result.”

(Story continues below video.)

Roye said multiple steps have been taken to stretch resources across Lifespan, “including expanding nurse-to-patient ratios, placing ICU patients in non-traditional ICUs, converting intermediate care units into ICUs, canceling elective surgeries, and severely limiting our ability to accept transfers given lack of capacity.”

He said the hospitals are still hoping to receive assistance from FEMA personnel or the Rhode Island National Guard, and said officials are working on “finding solutions to this unprecedented crisis” in collaboration with Gov. Dan McKee’s office, the R.I. Emergency Management Agency and the R.I. Department of Health.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has already deployed National Guard personnel to help alleviate hospital staffing shortages.

At Care New England — whose hospitals include Women & Infants, Kent and Butler — the situation continues to deteriorate, according to A.J. Avila, its head of human resources.

“Staffing at our hospitals is becoming more challenging by the day,” Avila said in a statement.

“With the holidays this past weekend, exposures and illnesses have increased (as expected throughout the community),” he said. “Our staffs live and work in this community, so we are all included in this.”

“Also, this week is a week when many are taking much-needed vacation time, so add that to the sick call-outs and the ‘need to take care of my sick kid, etc.’ callouts and we are seeing a significant increase this week,” Avila added.

Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown professor, told 12 News on Tuesday: “I have never seen it so bad as it is right now.”

“We have been short-staffed for months, and I want to be clear – it’s not because of the vaccine mandates,” she said in an interview for this weekend’s edition of Newsmakers. “The hospital systems in Rhode Island kept workers. It’s really because people are burnt out, and tired, and because some of our nurses and other staff can make more money going to other states.”

Ranney echoed calls for state officials to direct more resources to the hospitals, like National Guard personnel, in order to alleviate the staffing crunch.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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