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Short-Staffed US Hospitals Lean On National Guard While Ceasing Nonurgent Procedures

Short-Staffed US Hospitals Lean On National Guard While Ceasing Nonurgent Procedures

As Covid-19 hospitalizations reach new highs, more states and health care systems are cutting back services that aren’t urgent and relying on National Guard personnel to fill staffing gaps as infected health care employees miss work to recover and patient demand grows. More federally deployed medical teams will head soon to six states (Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island) to help hospitals combat Covid-19, President Joe Biden announced Thursday. The President also announced plans last month to mobilize 1,000 additional military medical personnel to help overwhelmed hospitals.

While officials have started to call out very early signs that the Omicron coronavirus wave is peaking — or at least plateauing — in parts of the Northeast, experts say it will be weeks before any change can be declared a trend. Until then, the surge has put frontline workers in the medical industry and others at higher risk. More than 155,900 people in the US are hospitalized with Covid-19, according to data Thursday from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), surpassing records set in last winter’s surge. And hospitals need more people to help provide care.

National Guard personnel march in formation Thursday at a state-managed coronavirus drive-through testing site that just opened on Staten Island in New York.

Deaths nationally have lagged from the worst of last winter’s surge, as the country has averaged 1,817 Covid-19 deaths a day over the past week, Johns Hopkins University data shows. The peak daily average was 3,402 one year ago on January 13, 2021.

Nineteen states reported less than 15% remaining capacity in their intensive care units, according to HHS data Thursday: Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont. Before New Year’s, states such as Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York were already calling upon Guard members to assist with medical and nonmedical tasks.


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In Wisconsin, National Guard members will be trained as certified nursing assistants to support hospitals and nursing homes, Gov. Tony Evers said. In Washington state, hospitals will temporarily halt nonurgent procedures “so as much capacity and staff can be dedicated to emergent needs — the people who need this right now,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday.

“In this Omicron surge, you need to remember no one is untouchable,” Ohio state health department director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said Thursday, asking people to only go to the hospital in the case of a real emergency as staffing shortages remain critical.

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