A few weeks ago, I sent you an email. It described the potential toll the coronavirus could take on the U.S. healthcare system.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has done what we feared here in the U.S. The healthcare system is being overrun. And it appears we have not seen the worst of it yet.
Previously, we witnessed what happened in other countries. Such as China and South Korea. And then in Italy and Spain.
I’m sure many of us thought it would never get that bad here. But now America has the most confirmed cases of this pandemic in the world.
NYC Is Outbreak’s Epicenter
Things have been especially bad in New York City. It’s now the epicenter of the outbreak. Hospitals don’t have the equipment and personnel they need to handle the crisis.
Elmhurst Hospital Center is located in Queens. It is moving patients not suffering from the virus to other hospitals.
The 545-bed public hospital has become dedicated to treating those with the virus. But even those aren’t enough.
Many parts of the hospital are being transformed into intensive care units.
An ‘Apocalyptic’ Scene
Dr. Ashley Bray is a general medical resident at the hospital. He describes the scene as “apocalyptic.”
By March 26, New York City had reported more than 23,000 confirmed cases and 365 deaths. Those numbers are sure to be higher by the time you read this.
There are only 1,800 intensive care beds in the city. All were expected to be filled by March 27. One man waited nearly 60 hours for a bed. Ventilators have been in short supply.
At the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, four 250-bed hospitals are being constructed. In addition, a 1,000-bed hospital ship is headed to New York.
Shortage of N95 Masks
Healthcare workers are overwhelmed. And not just in New York. Although the state had by far the largest number of confirmed cases (39,140), as of March 26.
Other states with more than 1,600 confirmed cases included New Jersey, California and Washington. Plus Florida, Louisiana and Michigan. As well as Illinois, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
Doctors, nurses and orderlies can’t get enough N95 masks. They should be changing masks between patients, but aren’t always able to.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has told some healthcare workers this. Take scarves, bandanas and makeshift masks to work as “a last resort.”
Medical Personnel Are Upset
Some healthcare workers are angry about the lack of protective gear. Including masks and surgical gowns. Especially since they are putting their health at risk.
At Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, 35 physicians and nurses are not able to work. Because they either have or are suspected of having the virus.
An anesthesiologist in Arizona said he had to get N95 masks on eBay. A nurse in Ohio said her hospital won’t let nurses wear masks. Because it might cause panic among patients. Another nurse quit due to the lack of protective equipment.
Meanwhile, President Trump announced that FEMA is distributing 8 million special medical masks.
From Healers to Spreaders?
Is it possible healthcare workers will become the spreaders of this pandemic? Rather than the ones bringing healing?
When unprotected healthcare workers are surrounded by infected people, that’s what could happen.
We know because it’s been happening in Italy. Italian doctors wrote this recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“We are learning that hospitals might be the main COVID-19 carriers. As they are rapidly populated by infected patients facilitating transmission to uninfected patients.”
So Much for Job Titles
At some hospitals, job descriptions no longer mean what they used to.
Everyone is pitching in to help patients. And that includes doctors who specialize in other disciplines.
One doctor said, “I’ve been brushing up on how to manage a ventilator. Because I haven’t had to do that in almost a decade.
“In a week, two weeks, I might have to shift from the long-term care of cancer patients to acute critical care.”
All Hands on Deck
A shortage of healthcare workers is coming. Due to the number of new patients and illnesses health workers will have. So, some states are getting creative about handling it.
The New York State health department has been finding retired physicians to volunteer. Other states are temporarily relaxing licensing rules to enable others to pitch in.
Dr. Edward Redlener is director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness. That’s at Columbia University.
He says, “The reality is that we’re facing the inevitable shortage of healthcare providers.”
Get in Line to Get in Line
The Trump Administration has urged hospitals to postpone non-essential elective procedures. Such as cataract surgery and colonoscopies.
Others who can’t wait for treatment may not receive the care they normally would.
Hospital beds, medical equipment, physicians and nurses will not be as available. Due to system-wide healthcare disruptions.
People with chronic conditions might have to wait longer for treatment. Not to mention those involved in accidents or those who experience heart attacks.
It’s a new world out there. Everyone is going to have to adjust until the healthcare community can get this pandemic under control. Let’s pray it’s sooner rather than later.