About a month ago, Orange County officials declared a health emergency due to the record numbers of pediatric hospitalizations and emergency room visits, driven by growing numbers of cases of respiratory syncytial virus. Similar levels of concern are being raised by public health officials in San Diego, Santa Clara, Los Angeles and other counties.
For hospitals, the problem is clear: There simply are not enough clinical staff to provide care for all in need. Many hospitals report having to divert patients to other facilities and in rural Northern California, stories are now surfacing about pediatric patients needing ICU care and being sent to hospitals as far as San Francisco — several hours away.
The health care system’s capacity is stretched beyond its limits. Already this year, patients presenting with flu-like illnesses are far outpacing numbers seen in 2020 and 2021, when COVID-19 was surging (the numbers are nearly double this year). As of this week, cases were trending upward, with 72% of pediatric beds statewide filled. Regional spikes mean some areas have even fewer beds available.
From an article in the New York Times on Tuesday: “Every children’s hospital that I’m aware of is absolutely swamped,” said Dr. Coleen Cunningham, pediatrician in chief at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
Given prolonged challenges with hiring caregivers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and these extraordinary increases in demand (especially for specialty services like pediatric care), hospitals need help to ensure that care can be provided to all in need whenever it is needed.
CHA has been sharing these concerns with top officials at the state Health and Human Services Agency, as well as the California Department of Public Health. Specifically, we’re asking for the relief you need to accommodate a rapid influx of patients at a time of critical staffing shortages. That relief could come through things like physical space flexibilities, out-of-state nursing waivers, and/or team nursing waivers.
At this time, the state, working with CHA, has developed uniform template to request a team nursing waiver to streamline the review and implementation process for such requests. Also, CHA, along with our colleagues representing children’s hospitals, continues to meet with Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly on a regular basis to share information about accurate data collection, staffing challenges, patient transfers, and other issues as we work to ensure flexibilities can be activated as soon as possible to avoid shortfalls that result in negative health outcomes.
Unions representing health care workers have recognized that the situation may deteriorate, and we will join them on a call with the governor’s administration this week to discuss a response to this growing problem.
We will continue to keep all of you informed on how these conversations progress and when additional tools become available for use in combating this latest health care crisis.