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WV hospitals: plenty of beds, not enough staff to treat surge of COVID patients

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The leader of the West Virginia Hospital Association says the post-holiday spike in COVID-19 patients is not surprising, but is concerning as the Omicron variant continues to spread and put a strain on workers.

Jim Kaufman

“The hospitals are definitely stretched thin. The staffs are exhausted as the pandemic continues to go on. We have more patients than we can care for,” president and CEO Jim Kaufman said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

This week, West Virginia surpassed 800 COVID hospitalizations for the first time since mid-October. The state’s online dashboard on Tuesday showed 220 of those patients were in the ICU and 128 those patients were on ventilators.

The increase comes as West Virginia National Guard members begin training to help in hospitals if needed. Kaufman said utilizing the Guard will ease the pressure.

“It’s not going to open new beds because the Guard that are available are not really clinical staff, but it just might provide some additional support for the hospitals,” he said.

Kaufman said they have more than enough beds to care for patients. The main issue involves a staffing shortage.

“We have about 500 fewer beds that are in operation from August 2021 to December and it’s simply due to a staffing issue,” he said.

It’s not just nurses, Kaufman said. There are challenges with support staff, too.

“It’s respiratory therapist, it’s environmental services, it’s medical technicians. It’s a huge staffing problem which means fewer beds are in operation which means fewer patients that we can care for,” he said.

From August to October 2021, Kaufman said hospitals received $58 million in federal funds through the “Save Our Care” program, but spent more than $100 million in overtime, retention efforts and travel nurses to keep beds open.

Last month, Gov. Jim Justice announced $48 million of West Virginia’s remaining $122.8 million in federal CARES Act funding will go toward training, recruiting and retaining nurses.

State officials said the goal of the new initiative is to produce more than 2,000 nurses in West Virginia over the next four years.

Bill Crouch, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, said during a late Dec. 2021 briefing the staffing issue is complicated.

“We’re all competing for the same staff. We’re competing against nursing homes. Nursing homes are competing against hospitals. Our state facilities are competing with hospitals and nursing homes. And we’re competing with other states and out-of-state entities that may be paying more than we’re paying. So it’s a difficult situation,” Crouch said.

Kaufman said the governor’s proposal will encourage nursing staffing for the future while also helping with the urgent need for nurses today.

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