Dozens of hospitals in New York are facing a capacity crunch as COVID-19 cases have risen over the last several weeks. The issue has raised enough concerns for Gov. Kathy Hochul's administration that she has signed an order allowing health officials to limited elective surgeries in the facilities that are strained.
But the increase in COVID cases is only part of the story facing health care networks in New York. The health care field, like virtually every sector of the economy nearly two years into the pandemic, is contending with complications created by a lack of staffing.
"Bed capacity is only as good as your staffing numbers," said Bea Grause, the president of the Healthcare Association of New York State. "There's lots of empty beds, but you really only care about the beds you can adequately staff."
Hochul's office on Wednesday reported more than 3,000 people are once again hospitalized due to COVID-19. There are at least 37 hospitals that have reached capacity of 10% of their staffed bed capacity remaining.
For now, patients who have scheduled elective surgeries don't have to do anything different other than be in communication with their doctor or hospital, Grause said. And hospital systems are preparing for a major increase in cases if there is one heading into the winter months.
"They're just paying very, very close attention to their own internal data so they know how to anticipate if there is a spike," Grause said.
A combination of factors have led to staffing problems: Retirements, fatigue from the pandemic, and the requirement health care workers be vaccinated.
"Between the retirement and the burnout and the vaccine mandate have all contributed to eroding that workforce pipeline," Grause said.
Hochul has urged health care workers who are yet to be vaccinated to do so, and has proposed using members of the New York National Guard to shore up staffing needs. It's a solution health care advocates believe only provides short-term relief.
Nursing homes present a related challenge. Jim Clyne, the president and CEO of Leading Age New York says hospitals in many cases cannot transfer patients to nursing homes because of their staffing problems, creating a bottleneck.
"What happens then is people get backed up in hospitals. They don't need hospital care, but the hospitals don't have the ability to discharge them because the nursing homes can't take them. So it really bogs down the system.
Clyne's group this week urged Gov. Kathy Hochul to tap into federal Medicaid money in order to shore up pay for nursing home staff as part of a recruitment and retention effort. Pay for nursing home staff has lagged over the years, making it difficult to hire and keep workers.
"Acting now would really be in the state's financial interest," Clyne said. "We could draw the most federal money possible by acting right now."