All Delaware County’s hospitals are at full capacity, directing ambulances with non-urgent patients to other hospitals amid what a top health official called “the perfect storm” – a sharp increase in both COVID-19 patients and staff, who report sick with the virus.
So staff are scarce at Crozer Health’s four hospitals that Springfield Hospital’s emergency room will be temporarily closed starting Friday. And that will likely add an extra burden to other already overcrowded hospitals, like nearby Riddle. With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, hospitals do not have enough staff “to provide normal, routine care,” said Delaware County medical advisor Lisa O’Mahony, a problem that has plagued facilities across Pennsylvania in the past few days.
“I don’t think we’ve seen this lately,” said O’Mahony.
With hours Waiting times in the emergency room for non-urgent treatments: “You don’t want to cut yourself while you’re making your bagel,” she added, “because you don’t need sutures at this point.”
The exposure could be a warning sign that the rise is intensifying in the region. Other parts of the state have been experiencing high levels of stress for weeks as hospitals take emergency measures to increase bed capacity, stretch workers, and prioritize the most urgent patients.
Now that hospitals are experiencing a tsunami of staff shortages due to their own COVID-19 cases or exposures, they have even fewer workers available.
Although Philadelphia and suburbs hospitals fared slightly better in December than other parts of the state, the number of people being hospitalized here per day has increased – it increased between December 3rd, when the first Omicron case was discovered in Philadelphia and quadrupled Monday.
Last week Crozer-Chester Medical Center had grown so low that CDC guidelines allowed workers to be recalled from isolation before their five-day quarantine was over, said Gary Zimmer, chief medical officer at Crozer Health.
The closure of the Springfield emergency room will allow workers to move to other hospitals. And Delaware County Medical Reserve Corps volunteers represent staff from all four Crozer hospitals – Crozer-Chester, Delaware County Memorial, Taylor, and Springfield, O’Mahony said.
“We assume that the next few weeks will be difficult,” said Crozer spokesman Lori. Buchbinder said Monday.
The increase has brought record numbers of new infections and hospital admissions.
On Monday, 6,891 patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized in Pennsylvania, 6,075 in New Jersey and 665 in Delaware – all high numbers compared to other points in the pandemic.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf last week promised aid to the state’s increasingly congested hospitals – but his plan didn’t say which hospitals and regions would receive aid or when it would arrive.
New Jersey and Delaware were similarly stressed. Four Delaware hospitals said they were forced to introduce crisis standards for care – Prioritize the sickest patients over others due to the lack of staff and resources.
Newark-based ChristianaCare has never reached this point before, said Ken Silverstein, chief medical officer. The system has been more than 100% busy for weeks, and with 40% of people hospitalized for COVID-19, even items like bedpans are in short supply, he said.
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“It’s not a sustainable model,” he said. “Really what we need is to get the pandemic under control and contain it.”
In New Jersey officials have also sounded the alarm – the last time so many people in the hospital had the coronavirus was on April 29, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy said Monday.
More than 10,000 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past two weeks, Murphy said. And although the number of children hospitalized for the virus remains relatively small, New Jersey had the highest number of pediatric COVID-19 hospital admissions on Monday.
In the past two weeks, Delaware County’s virus-related hospital admissions have increased more than any other county in Pennsylvania. according to the New York Times. And it has recorded more cases per capita in the past week than any other Collar County or Philadelphia. according to the Times data.
The percentage of COVID-19 tests that are positive has skyrocketed, rising from 29% last week to more than 40%, O’Mahony said. Nationwide, this number was almost 25% on Thursday.
The county has endeavored to open more test sites as demand has increased. Three opened last week, including one state sponsored, and another opens on Tuesday.
»READ MORE: Why Is It So Hard To Find A COVID-19 Test? The locations are scarce in terms of personnel and the rapid supply is low.
The trends in Delaware County could be due in part to areas with low vaccination rates and fatigue with wearing masks and other precautions, O’Mahony said.
“It’s definitely not just a factor,” said O’Mahony. “That’s not supposed to mean the other [regional] Districts may not catch up in the next week or two because we’ve seen this on previous climbs. “
In neighboring Chester County, hospitals are under additional pressure due to the closure of two Tower Health hospitals: Jennersville, which has closed, and Brandywine, which will close later this month, said county health director Jeanne Franklin.
“We know that hospitals are quickly trying to find space for additional beds, expand their staff (even if there are recruitment problems) and have activated some of their operations control centers,” Franklin said on Monday.
The hospitals in Bucks and Montgomery Counties are doing a little better. Montgomery County’s hospitals are busy but not overwhelmed, officials said at a news conference last week. Bucks County’s hospitals are feeling the absence of staff, a spokesman said Monday.
Some hospitals in the Philadelphia area Taken new steps last week such as restricting visitors and delaying voting procedures. This week, others said the staff shortage was just as challenging, if not bigger, than that of COVID-19 patients.
“We intervene in our reserve pool of clinicians. People had to work harder, ”said Ron Keren, chief medical officer of Philadelphia Children’s Hospital.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a crisis,” he said. “It overwhelms us, challenges us, but we get by.”
»READ MORE: Approximately 90% of COVID-19 patients in some of Pa’s hardest hit hospitals. are not vaccinated
A Jefferson University Hospital spokesman also said there was good progress and plans to continue the elective procedures, despite the hospital’s staff relocation and a “challenge” with the number of workers who tested positive.
In the suburbs, a recently opened test site at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby will “ease some of the burden” on its emergency room, said Sharon Carney, chief clinical officer of Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic.
Main Line Health, which operates in Montgomery, Delaware and Chester counties, is not in “crisis occupation mode,” said chief medical officer Jonathan Stallkamp. Even if the surge worsens, the system has no plans to close emergency rooms.
It introduced a two-week break in electoral processes, which was “incredibly helpful” in uncovering beds and staff, said Stallkamp.
Even so, he urged people to go to the emergency room only when needed.
“If you want something like stitches it could be treated for urgent treatment,” he said. “If you have a heart attack, be sure to come to the emergency room.”
And Delaware County’s O’Mahony warned that people should wear masks, distance themselves socially, and “crouch” for the moment.
“When you have a percent positivity of 40.1%,” she said, “you can assume that anyone who is in public is at risk of contracting COVID.”
The authors Jason Laughlin and Aubrey Whelan contributed to this article.