South Bay hospitals work to cope with quarantine-related staffing issues

ByZach Fuentes KGO logo
Saturday, January 8, 2022
South Bay hospitals cope with quarantine-related staffing issues
A South Bay doctor explains how hospitals are managing staffing shortages amid the latest omicron-fueled COVID surge.

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Positive COVID cases and exposure to them continue to cause issues at local hospitals, not just for the patients coming for care but for healthcare workers themselves.

"Our major concern is staffing issues with omicron, causing more mild illness that still puts people out of work," said Dr. Ahmad Kamal, the director of healthcare preparedness for Santa Clara County.

He says that the county has seen an increase in COVID patients, but that during this omicron surge, many coronavirus-positive people being hospitalized are there for other complications, or have already been in the hospital.

RELATED: Stanford hospital sees record number of kids on oxygen

"So it's actually less of a concern of the severity of COVID and severe respiratory illness than it was before, even though that still is occurring to some degree," Dr. Kamal said, "And more around issues of staffing and healthcare workers calling up sick."

The South Bay situation, is similar to what other parts of the Bay Area are facing... like at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital or Napa County, who earlier this week had zero ICU capacity.

VIDEO: From SF to Napa, here's why Bay Area hospitals are experiencing overwhelming staffing shortages

From San Francisco to Napa County, here's why Bay Area hospitals are experiencing overwhelming staffing shortages.

We reached out to other local hospitals to see how they were handling staffing shortages. Kaiser Permanente sent ABC7 a statement saying in part:

"This current surge of the Omicron variant is rapidly spreading in our communities, and infections are occurring among even vaccinated individuals including health care workers. We are using all options available to maintain hospital and ambulatory care staffing and are continuing to meet the needs of our patients and provide high-quality, safe care for every patient at all times. Some of the measures we are taking include employing traveling nurses to supplement nurse staffing and provide respite for our nurses, adjusting elective and non-urgent surgeries and procedures as needed, and offering our industry-leading telehealth capabilities in addition to in-person care. We are closely monitoring the hospital census, available beds, outpatient appointments, staffing, supplies and equipment throughout California. The situation remains dynamic, and we are prepared to respond to the ever-changing demands this pandemic may require."

Though there's cause for concern in Santa Clara County, Dr. Kamal says things are still not at their worst.

"Generally, the standard is that each ICU nurse takes care of two patients. And right now, we haven't had any need to deviate from that ratio," he said, "But once again, it's something that we're keeping a very close eye on."

Dr. Kamal says hospitals around the county continue to get creative with ways to make sure the most important needs can be met.

RELATED: Omicron variant fills up children's hospitals as pediatric COVID cases in US soar

"(We're) looking at sort of, what are the real critical areas to staff, for example, in the emergency rooms, the ICU, general medicine wards, where there's an influx of patients and maybe trying to see if some elective procedures, for example, can be delayed. Ramping down some of the operating room volumes, looking at ambulatory services, to see what can be delayed or ramped down," Dr. Kamal said.

SEE ALSO: Omicron surge could be over by February, UCSF doctor predicts

Dr. Kamal echoes messaging from some other Bay Area counties, reminding people that testing positive for coronavirus and having mild symptoms does not mean you need to go to the hospital.

"Staying at home staying safe, hydrating, resting -- all the good stuff we do with viral illnesses very important," Dr. Kamal said, "Really coming to the emergency room if they're having trouble breathing or if you're having severe respiratory problems as they would otherwise."