Fresno is facing a staffing shortage as Delta variant cases rise in the Central Valley.
Medical staffing in the Central Valley has always been a “chronic” problem, according to Dr. Rais Vohra, interim health officer for Fresno County’s Department of Public Health. But he says staffing shortages are a major cause for concern when it shows up during times of crisis.
Where Are All the Nurses?
Fresno County EMS Director Dan Lynch says the healthcare system has been seriously impacted with hospitals across the county requesting assistance of up to 110 individuals, varying from ICU nursing staff to medical surgical staff, and telemedicine staff with most of those positions not likely to be filled in one day.
During the pandemic, the state provided traveling nurses that were being flown and stationed in the most needed areas, but now the state has decided to take a step back and left Fresno County hospitals scrambling to compete with other major cities in Northern and Southern California.
“This didn’t just occur overnight – this is because we don’t have a strong pipeline the way that other cities and other areas of our state and country do,” says Vohra. “We’re always competing with Northern California, Southern California for attracting medical professionals and whenever things get really, really tight, that competition really heats up. So it’s a combination of things.”
Apart from the fact that many nurses would rather choose to work in bigger cities, closer to the coast where the quality of the air and cooler temperatures are a big draw, other factors can be attributed to exhaustion and fatigue.
“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that people are tired and that there is an element of fatigue and even burnout that’s really a dimension to this pandemic and it’s just getting worse,” said Vohra. “In this surge especially, we’re hearing more and more vocally from people who are fed up, they’re extremely exhausted, they’re very stressed out and I think that that really does contribute to some of the staffing shortages that we see, and we just don’t have that level of volunteerism that we were relying on with prior surges.”
COVID 19 is Not the Only Factor Crippling the Healthcare System
Another major cause for concern are the ICU beds that can quickly fill up with patients who are not only experiencing COVID symptoms but are also patients with severe health problems and injuries.
“Now, a lot of people can think, well, I don’t have COVID or I’ve been vaccinated or I already had COVID,” said Vohra. “So this health care story doesn’t matter to me and I can just tune out – that’s absolutely not true. You can have a car crash this afternoon, you can have chest pain, there’s women that are going to go into labor, there’s people that are going to develop appendicitis, kids are going to continue to get injured, et cetera.”
Lynch says hospitals are holding ICU patients in their emergency departments because their ICU’s are full or have unstaffed beds.
To make matters worse, as ambulances arrive to drop patients off, they are also being held for long periods of time because there’s no place to take the patients to causing a huge problem for those seeking help for a medical emergency.
“This isn’t just a COVID issue, this is a healthcare issue,” said Lynch. “We are already impacted every year just by the normal business of health care in our community, but whatever extra capacity we have is gone because of COVID – so it really just exacerbates the issue and that’s the situation we’re in again today.”
Update on Fresno County’s COVID Cases
As of Aug. 19. there are 338 patients hospitalized across Fresno County, a significant increase from the previous week which had 265 patients hospitalized.
These numbers reflect similar numbers during the height of the pandemic last year in the month of February according to Lynch.
Currently, there are 347 Delta variant cases, but healthcare officials warn that this an undercount.