Hospitals 'rob Peter to pay Paul'

Hospitals and health systems across the U.S. have faced workforce challenges from staffing shortages throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising, driven largely by the BA.5 omicron subvariant, they continue to struggle with these challenges as federal funding runs out, Politico reported July 25.

Staffing shortages have long existed, and hospitals and health systems have used various recruitment and retention strategies, including hiring traveling workers. However, the current situation and workers leaving their roles has forced organizations to rethink how they staff their facilities.

Several facilities have had to halt services over staffing shortages. Others have moved employees between departments, are experiencing longer emergency room waits, and cut routine COVID-19 testing to maintain stability, according to Politico. Chapel Hill, N.C.-based UNC Health is one example. David Wohl, MD, the infectious diseases expert leading the virus response at the health system, described needing to move staff to handle greater demand for monoclonal antibody treatments.

"We have to rob Peter to pay Paul," Dr. Wohl said, according to Politico. "If you have people working in an infusion center doing this, what was their day job before COVID? Some of them were working in the emergency room. Some of them were working in the operating room. You just can't pull people from these other critical functions and have them always working elsewhere."

Hospitals are also under strain financially to cover certain costs such as COVID-19 testing. In March, the White House requested $22.5 billion in supplemental COVID-19 relief funds from Congress. Although there was a funding deal in Congress to cover part of that request, the deal did not come to fruition, Politico reported.

"There is growing concern that this money has run out," Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association, told Politico. "It's not really getting sufficient attention."

As of July 22, hospitals in all U.S. states said they expected critical staffing shortages within a week, according to HHS data cited by Politico

Read the full Politico report here

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