'Nurses exhausted': Nationwide nursing shortage hits CA, Bay Area hospitals

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As surging COVID-19 cases fill up hospitals across the country, there is mounting concern about a lack of nurses and medical staff.

"I'm seeing people die alone. I'm seeing nurses exhausted, missing their families," said Dr. Vanessa Walker, a critical care specialist with Sutter Health, in a stark video that California health care leaders released Tuesday, warning of the current surge.

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"I've never seen it like this. It's getting out of control," said Carlos Rangel, an environmental services worker with Kaiser Permanente.

Tied directly to surge in coronavirus cases and dwindling ICU capacity, is a nationwide nursing shortage that is affecting hospitals throughout California.

"The level of activity in each hospital is very high and it exhausts even the best nurses," said Sarah Sherwood, a spokesperson for San Jose Regional Medical Center. She says the hospital has hired new nurses and staff, and it's still not enough.

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Despite desperate warnings from health officials and pleas from doctors and nurses for people follow coronavirus safety guidelines, one South Bay hospital is totally full, including in their intensive care unit.

"Our nurses are handling it, they're okay, but I don't know if they can handle for long-term."

There are many explanations for the current nursing shortage.

Joanne Spetz, director of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF, explains one reason.

"Traveling nurses, who often fill in the gaps in different locations when there's a shortage, have been grabbed all over the country by different hospitals, and now that California is going into its surges a little bit later than a lot of other states, a lot of the traveling nurses are already in contracts to help out in Michigan and Philadelphia, in Tennessee."

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Spetz says hospitals, particularly in California's Central Valley and Inland Empire, are at risk of overloading nurses, and are turning patients away.

"I think we will see hospitals become much more deliberate about the triage, and when do they send patients home versus when do they admit them, even if just for observation and that does have increased risk for patients."

The immediate solution: stay home and don't spread the virus.

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