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Hundreds of Hawaii’s frontline workers out sick as COVID surge continues

A COVID surge and a rising number of flu cases are driving up sick calls among Hawaii’s frontline workers, leaving hospitals struggling to meet patient needs.
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 4:08 PM HST|Updated: May. 26, 2022 at 8:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A COVID surge and a rising number of flu cases are driving up sick calls among Hawaii’s frontline workers, leaving hospitals struggling to meet patient needs, health care officials said.

Across the state on Thursday, some 600 frontline workers were out sick.

The majority have COVID, but facilities are also seeing more cases of the flue.

Hawaii hospitals have already brought in more than 200 traveling nurses from the continent to help cover shifts. But Daniel Ross, the head of the nurses union, says that’s nowhere close to what’s needed.

“It’s not a good time to be in the hospital,” Ross said.

The president of the Hawaii Nurses Association spoke to HNN on Thursday morning on his break at the Queen’s Medical Center.

He says patients are coming in non-stop and that hospitals are woefully understaffed.

“We don’t have enough nurses,” Ross said. “We’ve been short staffed all along. We saw this coming.”

Hilton Raethel, president of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said things will get worse before they get better.

“Unfortunately ... (sick calls) are going up. They have been going up the last few weeks,” he said.

The Queen’s Heath Systems has been hit especially hard, confirming more than 300 of its staff were out Thursday.

In a statement, hospital Chief Operating Officer Jason Chang said:

“Because of the additional COVID cases, and its impact on our caregivers, our Emergency Department and hospital can sometimes be filled to capacity. In this case, patients are occasionally asked to wait in hallway beds until a hospital room is available.”

Ross said staffing shortages can impact patient care “because your nurse will be too busy to give you the care and the monitoring you should have. If you don’t have your eyes on the patient you will miss when there’s a critical change that needed intervention.”

He added, “Time saves lives.”

On the Big Island, North Hawaii Community Hospital is also close to critical staffing level.

“North Hawaii’s hospital is dangerously understaffed,” said Ross. “They just don’t have enough nurses hired.”

Statewide, hospitals are working to bring in at least 100 more traveling nurses over the next couple weeks. But unlike previous COVID surges they’ll have to foot the bill ― not the federal government.

Full statement from Queen’s on staffing shortages:

“At The Queen’s Health System, the safety of our patients and caregivers remains our highest priority. Like the rest of the nation, we are seeing a rise in COVID hospitalizations which serves as a reminder that we are in yet another surge. Although we are all tired of COVID and would like to move on, the health and safety of our community remains our highest priority.

As we have seen in previous surges, the rise in new COVID cases directly correlates with a higher number of hospitalizations. As COVID circulates in our community, the impact on our caregivers parallels the number of new cases, putting undue stress on our frontline staff. At the peak of the Omicron surge, Queen’s had almost 900 employees out of work due to COVID. Today, we have over 300 caregivers out of work, a significant majority due to community spread.

Because of the additional COVID cases, and its impact on our caregivers, our Emergency Department and hospital can sometimes be filled to capacity. In this case, patients are occasionally asked to wait in hallway beds until a hospital room is available. This provides a measured plan to move patients to a medical unit as soon as one becomes available. While not ideal, it is a practice done both nationally and locally. Our goal is to ensure all patients receive the care they need in a timely manner.

At The Queen’s Medical Center-West Oahu a tent has been erected outside the emergency department which is being used to test patients for COVID who show up at the emergency department who do not require treatment.

We have also updated our Return-to-Work policy which follows CDC guidelines and matches the practice of all other hospitals in Hawaii. Despite the staffing challenges we’ve faced the past two years, Queen’s continues to ensure the highest level of patient safety and quality proven by our continued national recognition by rating organizations like Leapfrog, CMS and The Joint Commission.

Although the BA.2 variant is less discussed than previous COVID surges, Queen’s wants to reinforce the need to be fully vaccinated with boosters, and ensuring we are following basic infection prevention measures such as wearing a mask, staying home when we are sick, and being cautious in public social situations.

This surge is impacting many of us in the community and we all need to work together to do our part in making sure we are taking care of each other.”

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