On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that, after nearly three years, California’s COVID-19 state of emergency would end on Feb. 28, 2023.
While we are all eager to see the end of the pandemic, the fact is that COVID-19 has fundamentally and for the foreseeable future altered and diminished hospital capacity and capability in communities throughout the state. That’s a dangerous scenario for Californians, and it’s one that health officials should take all measures to mitigate.
Regardless of whether there might be another COVID-19 surge or this year’s flu season creates a rapid and greater need for Californians needing hospital care, the flexibilities employed during the pandemic — such as using certain spaces to create temporary additional beds or hiring out-of-state health care workers — are critical to meeting other care needs for the foreseeable future. California’s hospitals are at, or over, capacity. These flexibilities saved lives during the pandemic and are needed still to continue to save lives.
Hospitals have relied on them for the past two-plus years to care for an unexpected influx of patients and they have proven effective under the worst of circumstances. They will no longer be at the ready despite a significant challenge unrelated to COVID-19: the need to care for more and sicker patients.
CalMatters captured some of these concerns in an article published Monday evening. From the piece:
“It forces California hospitals to scale back on our capacity to care for people at a time of high uncertainty about the future … It’s really a bad time to think of scaling back on the capacity we have available.”
The bottom line is that hospitals will be stretched thin for years, if not decades. The workforce remains depleted. The cost of caring for patients is rising exponentially and rapidly while resources to pay for those costs remain flat and insufficient. And the need for services — especially those related to mental health and substance use disorders — is growing beyond the system’s ability to absorb these patients.
Take health care workers, for example. Even without a mass surge for any reason, nurse shortages are projected through 2030 at least, and the flexibility during the pandemic to hire out-of-state workers who would otherwise need licensure in California kept thousands of families whole. These out-of-state reinforcements will now be unavailable at a time when the state’s health care system is deeply vulnerable.
That’s the message CHA will continue to deliver to Gov. Newsom’s health care team as we work to build additional, long-lasting safeguards for Californians.