Hundreds of Hawaii’s frontline workers are ill as COVID surge continues

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — A COVID surge and rising numbers of flu cases are driving sick calls among Hawaii’s frontline workers, leaving hospitals struggling to meet patients’ needs, health officials said.

About 600 frontline workers were ill across the state as of Thursday.

The majority have COVID, but facilities are also seeing more cases of flu.

Hospitals in Hawaii have already brought in more than 200 traveling nurses from the continent to help cover shifts. But Daniel Ross, the leader of the nurses’ union, says that’s nowhere near what’s needed.

“It’s not a good time to be in the hospital,” Ross said.

The president of the Hawaii Nurses Association spoke to HNN during his break at Queen’s Medical Center on Thursday morning.

He says patients are coming in non-stop and hospitals are woefully understaffed.

“We don’t have enough nurses,” Ross said. “We were understaffed the whole time. We saw that coming.”

Healthcare Association of Hawaii President Hilton Raethel said things would get worse before they got better.

“Unfortunately … (sick visits) are increasing. They’ve gone up in the past few weeks,” he said.

The Queen’s health system was hit particularly hard, confirming that more than 300 of its staff were away from home on Thursday.

In a statement, Jason Chang, the hospital’s chief operating officer, said:

“Due to the additional COVID cases and their impact on our caregivers, our emergency room and hospital can sometimes be at full capacity. In this case, patients are occasionally asked to wait in corridor beds until a hospital room becomes available.”

Ross said staffing shortages can affect patient care “because your nurse is too busy to provide you with the care and supervision that you should have. If you don’t keep an eye on the patient, you will miss when there is a critical change that requires intervention.”

He added: “Time saves lives.”

On the Big Island, North Hawaii Community Hospital is also close to critical staffing.

“The hospital in northern Hawaii is dangerously understaffed,” Ross said. “They just haven’t hired enough nurses.”

Nationwide, hospitals are working to hire at least 100 more traveling nurses over the next few weeks. But unlike previous COVID waves, they have to foot the bill – not the federal government.

Full Queen’s statement on staff shortage:

“In the Queen’s healthcare system, the safety of our patients and caregivers remains our top priority. Like the rest of the nation, we are seeing a surge in COVID hospitalizations, reminding us that we are on another climb. While we are all fed up with COVID and want to move on, the health and safety of our community remains our top priority.

As we have seen with previous increases, the increase in new COVID cases is directly correlated with a higher number of hospital admissions. As COVID spreads through our community, the impact on our caregivers has paralleled the number of new cases, placing an undue burden on our frontline workers. At the height of the Omicron surge, Queen’s had nearly 900 employees out of work due to COVID. Today we have over 300 nurses out of work, a clear majority due to community spread.

Due to the additional COVID cases and their impact on our caregivers, our emergency room and hospital can be busy at times. In this case, patients are occasionally asked to wait in corridor beds until a hospital room becomes available. This provides an accurate plan to move patients to a medical ward as soon as one becomes available. While not ideal, it is a practice that is carried out both nationally and locally. Our goal is to ensure that all patients receive the care they need in a timely manner.

A tent has been set up in front of the ER at Queen’s Medical Center-West Oahu to test for COVID patients who show up to the ER and do not require treatment.

We have also updated our Return to Work policy, which follows CDC guidelines and is in line with the practice of all other hospitals in Hawaii. Despite the staffing challenges we have faced over the past two years, Queen’s continues to ensure the highest level of patient safety and quality, as evidenced by our continued national recognition from rating organizations such as Leapfrog, CMS and The Joint Commission.

Although the BA.2 variant is less discussed than previous COVID flare-ups, Queen’s wants to reiterate the need for full vaccination with booster shots and to ensure we are following basic infection prevention measures like wearing a mask, staying home when we are ill, and caution in public social situations.

This surge affects many of us in the community, and we must all work together to do our part to care for one another.”

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