Pandemic-fueled staffing difficulties persist throughout countless industries, but it’s hard to imagine a rougher ride than healthcare at present.
Back in November, we discussed how one of the largest U.S. healthcare employers, Kaiser Permanente, appeared to see some resolution to their plague of strikes. Yet the Covid-19 saga took a turn (with the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant), so it’s not surprising that the bandage is no longer holding the wound closed. Further, the problem is an industry-wide one with medical workers leaving the profession in droves (and calling out sick) while remaining healthcare workers struggle through exhaustion. Meanwhile, unions continue to weigh in while bringing no feasible solutions to the table.
The past few weeks kept the ball rolling downhill with several new developments:
- In early January, the California Department of Public Health switched gears (while reacting to staffing shortages) and declared that Covid-positive, asymptomatic healthcare workers can continue to work without further testing or quarantine. Unions responded, including National Nurses United, which expressed disapproval with these eased-up isolation guidelines.
- Hospitals (from Tennessee to Canada) began to put their vaccination policies on hold in order to mitigate the staffing crisis while Omicron increased patient inflow.
- In the meantime, the Supreme Court blocked Biden’s sweeping mandate that required vaccination (or regular testing) for any employer with 100+ employees. The court did, however, uphold the mandate for healthcare settings.
- Nurses across the nation began to strike in protest of increasingly strained working conditions, including low wages and understaffing. At Kaiser, mental health workers went on an MLK Day strike to demand better care for marginalized communities.
- A nationwide rally (stretching into Washington, D.C.) organized by National Nurses United further demanded attention to the subject. In Philadelphia, nurses appealed to the public to recognize the crisis; and in Canada, experts warned that the nursing shortage would soon grow beyond anything that we’ve seen in our lifetimes;
- Legislation (pushed by SEIU) in Washington State aims to limit the number of patients seen by each nurse and to end mandatory overtime practices.
- President Biden deployed military doctors and nurses to hospitals in several states (and counting) to ease the burden on overwhelmed staff.
Bloomberg notes that the hospital staffing crush is the worst in decades with this Covid surge expected to continue into February.