What to Know
- Coronavirus is exposing serious staff shortages in the healthcare industry
- A California-based medical staffing agency is grappling with a 30% spike in requests for temporary healthcare workers across the country
- Major hospital systems across the Bay Area have been forced to place medical staff on leave as a precautionary measure
Doctors, nurses, and physician assistants are in high demand as the coronavirus threatens to sideline hundreds of medical workers.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the golden state, many California hospitals struggled to hire enough staff to keep up with the state’s growing elderly population. A 2019 report from the Future Health Workforce Commission estimates California will need to hire 4,100 more doctors and 600,000 more home care workers over the next 10 years to address the staffing shortage. But as more healthcare workers get exposed to the coronavirus and are forced to stay home on leave, those projections could soon rise.
Coronavirus Creates Growing Demand for Doctors
Ryan Larkin is the Chief Operating Officer for MDstaffers, an employment agency for the medical industry which helps hospitals and clinics temporarily fill open positions. Larkin took NBC Bay Area on a tour of the company’s call center where dispatchers are seeing a demand across the country for doctors and nurses at a rate they’ve never experienced.
“I would say we’re seeing a 20 to 30 percent increase in demand,” Larkin said, specifically referring to requests for temporary doctors. “I would expect that at any given hospital, the demand will at least double.”
While a boom in business is usually a good sign, Larkin believes the current staffing level at hospitals is unsustainable without serious consequences to healthcare.
“All this coronavirus pandemic is doing is exposing the cracks in our healthcare system [that already existed]. Now we're seeing what happens when we take a few thousand healthcare workers and tell them to stay home for 14 days,” Larkin said.
Medical Workers Sent Home
One of the state’s largest healthcare unions SEIU-UHW estimates more than 50 of its members have been quarantined after treating a patient infected with the coronavirus.
UC San Francisco, St. Mary's Medical Center, and Kaiser Permanente told NBC Bay Area that they all placed some medical staff on leave as a precaution against the coronavirus, however they would not say how many.
In February, UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento sent at least 89 health care workers home to self-quarantine after a woman with the virus was admitted at the hospital. Those employees have since been cleared to return to work after testing negative for the coronavirus.
Saturday, UC San Diego revealed two more healthcare workers are recuperating at home after contracting the virus.
Protecting Healthcare Workers
San Francisco Department of Public Health told NBC Bay Area the agency does not specifically track the number of healthcare workers under quarantine, but acknowledged medical staffers face an elevated risk for exposure.
“We are more prepared than any other jurisdiction that I’m aware of. We have a robust healthcare system and everybody is stepping up,” San Francisco Public Health Director Grant Colfax told NBC Bay Area.
This weekend, San Francisco will hold a jobs fair for nurses and plans to waive certain rules to allow administrators to hire workers “on the spot,” bypassing the usual 6-month process.
In Santa Clara County, the area with the highest number of infections, Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody also expressed concern about protecting healthcare workers.
“We have had a number of healthcare workers infected,” Dr. Cody said. “That’s happening here and that’s one of the many reasons that it’s imperative to slow the spread and preserve the workforce.”
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the county plans to protect workers by limiting visitor access to hospitals and prioritizing medical staff for testing.
“I think one of the reasons that we are having this high need on healthcare workers is because one of the things we have to look for is creating surge capacity,” Supervisor Chavez said. “How many more people can we serve in our hospitals.”
Supervisor Chavez said the county is in the process of setting up tents to treat patients outside of the hospital which will also increase the county’s demand for doctors and nurses.
"We are relying on our healthcare workers like we never have before," Chavez said.
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