With still raging in the world, we continue to deal with several health crises and crises of all kinds. One major health crisis that has continued to intensify from one year ago is the during this pandemic, doctors worked hard to prepare for and respond to a new normal where patients were being treated in remote locations. However, in 2020, hospitals have not been able to support long-term care facilities due to the current surge in cases. This makes it difficult and challenging for our healthcare system to continue supporting people and families. As more hospitalizations are reported every day, there is need for an additional resource to provide critical care. Without these resources and expertise, the government will not be able to address these issues. We must begin immediately addressing the following challenges within our healthcare systems:
Hospitalization – Overwhelmed hospitals are unable to keep up as infections rise. A shortage of critical nursing staff and bed capacity causes some hospitals to run out of intensive care unit beds to treat cases. These shortages result in patients who are very sick and have other underlying health conditions becoming rushed into hospitals and requiring emergency treatment such as life saving procedures. On average, U.S. hospitals are running at or near capacity most days in 2021. If this continues, hospitals will exceed their capacity by July.
Overwhelmed hospitals are unable to keep up as infections rise. A shortage of critical nursing staff and bed capacity causes some hospitals to run out of intensive care unit beds to treat cases. These shortages result in patients who are very sick and have other underlying health conditions becoming rushed into hospitals and requiring emergency treatment such as life saving procedures. On average, U.S. hospitals are running at or near capacity most days in 2022. If this continues, hospitals will exceed their capacity by July. Intensive Care Units (ICU) Capacity – As the pandemic begins to reach its peak, hospitals are finding they do not have enough ICU beds available to help relieve disease transmission without affecting health outcomes. At least 40 states are actively scrambling to expand ICU capacity to ensure adequate hospital availability without compromising patient care and quality of care. However, in many cases, it appears the demand for ICU space is exceeding the capacity of local hospitals, forcing the use of high flow nasal oxygen machines instead. Currently, the national allocation of portable oxygen units is estimated to only account for less than 40% of the potential capacity.
As the pandemic begins to hit its peak, hospitals are finding they do not have enough ICU beds available to help relieve disease transmission without affecting health outcomes. At least 40 states are actively circling to expand ICU capacity to ensure adequate hospital availability without compromising patient care and quality of care. However, in many cases, it appears the demand for ICU space is exceeding the capacity of local hospitals, forcing the use of high flow nasal oxygen machines instead. Currently, the national allocation of portable oxygen units is estimated to only accounted for less than 40% of the potential capacity. Evacuation – With so much at risk in the United States now, hospitals face tremendous pressure to move people around. With schools closed due to the virus, people continue to return home, which increases travel risks, and places them far away from healthcare facilities. Although some parts of the country have implemented state plans to allow hospital evacuations, it will take months to complete these plans, leaving vulnerable populations in regions where hospitals are struggling to cope with other health emergencies with no hope.
With so much at risk in the United States now, hospitals face enormous pressure to move people around. With schools closed due to the virus, people continue to return home, which increases travel risks, and places them far away from healthcare facilities. Despite significant progress made in containing the outbreak, the public is increasingly demanding urgent access to personal protective equipment, ventilators, masks, and other medical devices. Although there has been progress on obtaining PPE so that healthcare personnel can carry it to their sites, only 16% of medical supplies currently available are specifically designed for managing serious outbreaks and require specialized disposal. An extensive number of countries worldwide currently struggle to obtain the right PPE, leaving patients vulnerable and frontline workers exposed in areas that, at the moment, lack sufficient quantities in order to properly prevent severe diseases.
With so much at risk and patients needing urgent medical assistance, hospitals face unprecedented pressure to move people around. Despite significant progress made in controlling the virus and responding to its spread, there are reports of hospitals trying to move patients outside an area when they should not be moving patients. Such transfers are particularly dangerous in rural areas. Additionally, transferring patients may create safety risks in hospitals as well as harm the communities where they are located. Health experts believe that if people are not able to receive essential hospitals could continue to relocate patients and increase the chances of infection spreading.
Despite recent advances, our healthcare system remains under significant stress and strain. Hospitalizations and ICU capacity remain extremely scarce, with hospitals already short staffed and stretched thin. Since April, we’ve seen hospitalizations increase steadily across the nation, reaching record highs of over 21,000 and even 20,500 people, respectively in Florida and Arizona. When combined with the rising numbers of deaths, hospitalizations and ICU capacity are increasing at an accelerated rate than any other country in the world. Not only are hospitals experiencing increased workloads and mounting pressures on their own, but also the federal government has been woefully unprepared for a disaster like this.
Even before the government was ready to combat a global pandemic, Congress had passed multiple pieces of legislation to fight this crisis and set up temporary programs to aid in hospitals. Both of these efforts were unsuccessful, however, and Congress has repeatedly tried to reallocate resources to meet the needs of smaller hospitals and local healthcare centers. Even though there is no doubt about whether can cause death or disease in humans in the first place, the administration’s unwillingness to act and the failure to allocate the necessary healthcare resources to hospitals has resulted in this devastating virus still infecting thousands.
In addition to large public investments, there was another key factor that was absent from the government response. There was no prepared plan to support healthcare workers in a way that would benefit both workers and patients. During spring, healthcare organizations were initially focused on providing protective gear such as gowns and gloves, yet hospitals are not required to maintain these protective measures. While there is an important effort underway to incorporate protective clothing into the work environment, we are talking here about basic protective gear to protect nurses from catching the virus. Instead of using protective gear, hospitals are going completely without protective gear. Workers are then forced to wear disposable and non-hospital approved protective gear to manage Nurses are concerned about their coworkers getting infected while they are caring for the sickest patients and worried that the non-hospital approved protective gear will make their job worse. It is clear that working conditions that are both terrible for health and bad for protecting healthcare workers are poorly prepared for this pandemic.
Despite the obvious impact has had on hospitalizations and the biggest issues currently facing our healthcare system, and especially in the fight against this surge, is not the spread of the virus itself. Rather, healthcare facilities are struggling to stay connected to patients and families through telehealth appointments. Doctors and nurses have struggled to provide patients with the same level of treatment and comfort as they did during earlier surges. Telehealth visits and phone calls are common, and not always necessary in today’s environment.
We are living in a remote-based age in which telehealth and call center technology is increasingly widespread, and this trend is likely to accelerate. Most hospitals do not have telephone connections or internet capabilities, which means they have to rely heavily on telehealth to deliver care. Given that many patients are dying at home, telehealth has become an incredibly crucial tool and will play an increasingly vital role in the coming weeks and months. But with millions of Americans relying on phone calls and email to communicate with loved ones, how are hospitals handling this trend? According to a recent analysis conducted by MIT Media Lab (MIT), nearly 70% of hospital calls are either unrecorded or recorded remotely, meaning patients are calling in from hundreds of miles away. And since these phones are constantly updated based on information from healthcare workers, hospitals are falling victim to this type of misinformation.
Despite decades of development in telehealth technology, healthcare systems and providers are not equipped to handle millions of telehealth requests daily. Physicians, for example, might not realize that they are using telehealth to communicate with patients. Another issue in this sector is that hospitals are often overwhelmed with calls while continuing to operate during normal business hours. From April, hospitals began recording almost 30,500 telehealth consultations per month, according to the CDC. Of course, these numbers represent total telehealth consultations, but what does the data mean for health systems, hospitals, and health workers in particular? Do hospitals prioritize telehealth services to the detriment of healthcare workers who are attempting to combat this massive pandemic?
After analyzing 14 years worth of data, the findings may indicate that these healthcare models are inadequate, poorly integrated, and highly susceptible to abuse. All of these factors have contributed to the inability to produce the appropriate, safe, effective patient care under any circumstance and now are making hospitals vulnerable to the growing threat of infectious disease. To solve this problem, governments and private enterprises alike must step up their game, invest in new technologies and hire experienced doctors and nurses. Until this happens, we will continue to witness the impacts of the pandemic on the healthcare industry, patients, and healthcare workers. Let’s make sure the best thing that can happen is to work together towards a sustainable solution to this health crisis.