Head of nurses union: Severe staffing shortage at hospitals is impacting patient care

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 3:47 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2022 at 4:42 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Severe staffing shortages continue to plague Hawaii’s hospitals and the head of the Hawaii’s Nurses Association says lack of frontline workers is impacting patient care.

“It’s just a bad situation. I would tell the public if at all possible stay away from hospitals right now,” said Daniel Ross, who also works in a medical surgical unit at The Queen’s Medical Center-Punchbowl.

“Things will be missed. Things will be late,” he said. “I worked this weekend. Most of my patients got their medications late. Some dressing changes were missed.”

Ross said people in kidney failure are also being affected. He says because so many dialysis nurses are out due to COVID, some patients are having to skip treatments.

“Dialysis patients have been triaged for over a week now where they see who needs it the most and that person gets dialysis,” he said.

Statewide, as many as 1,500 frontline caregivers missed work Wednesday because they were infected with COVID or had been exposed to the virus. That’s 10% of the workforce.

And Ross said the staff members who are there are overwhelmed and are only able to provide a diminishing level of care.

“One of the nurse’s primary jobs is identifying when things change and being able to intervene promptly and appropriately,” he said. “And if you’re so busy you’re not having that eyes on, hands-on with the patient you’re going to miss when things change.”

Nationally this week, five states have imposed protocols known as crisis standards of care. That’s when resources are so scarce health systems prioritize patients based largely on their chance of survival.

Hospitals can even deny treatment.

That hasn’t happened in Hawaii during this latest surge, but officials aren’t ruling it out in the future.

“We absolutely expect the hospitalizations will continue to climb for the immediate future,” said Healthcare Association of Hawaii CEO Hilton Raethel.

Although COVID hospitalizations are shorter than they used to be, they are making up a larger proportion the patients ― about 15%.

To bolster staffing, hospitals are bringing in professionals from the mainland. Approximately 260 clinical personnel are expected to arrive this weekend. Another 190 will touch down the week after.

They’ll be assigned to facilities across the state.

Meanwhile, Ross said, “The caregivers are going to do their best. But it’s not going to be the same. If it’s an emergency go. But now is not a good time to be in there.”

HNN also confirmed an emergency request for hundreds of traveling nurses submitted late last year still hasn’t been approved by FEMA.

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