Maryland’s health officials are appealing to the public to take precautions as the state’s hospital bed availability is once again strained. Many hospitals are over 90% full, with some closer to 100% of capacity.
While COVID continues to increase demand on hospitals, the problem is not as severe as it was at this time last year, but hospital staffing shortages are much worse than they were before the pandemic.
Bob Atlas, president of the Maryland Hospital Association, said the public can help by being current on COVID and flu vaccines and by considering options other than the Emergency Department for minor issues.
“People should understand that our hospitals or emergency departments are there for true life-and-limb threatening emergencies and not the best resource for minor ailments,” Atlas said. “And if people can self-select, that’ll ease the burden on our hospitals somewhat.”
He said consider taking less severe problems to a primary care doctor, urgent care, or using a tele-health platform.
The Maryland Hospital Association estimated a shortfall of 5,000 registered nurses and 4,000 licensed practical nurses in the state. But Atlas said staffing problems in the wake of the pandemic are not limited to nursing.
“The staffing challenges: it’s multiple job categories that I’m hearing about, it’s lab techs, radiation technologists, respiratory therapists, a variety of job categories that are still short,” he said.
Experts have warned of the possibility of a so-called ‘tripledemic’ impacting health care systems, with the flu, RSV, and COVID circulating this winter. Atlas said many hospitals in the state are nearing capacity as COVID cases have increased to the highest number in 10 months.
“COVID patients represent about 10 to 11% of our hospitalized patients right now,” Atlas said. “The point being that we’d like to have less COVID. But the problem right now is we’ve got a lot of demand on our hospitals for all reasons. And we’re still very tight on staff.”