‘Perfect storm’: Plethora of COVID cases tests hospitals facing critical shortage of ICU staff

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MIAMI – Throughout the 18 months of the pandemic, hospitals have faced a competitive labor market, but the new rise of COVID hospitalizations is testing South Florida hospitals dealing with a critical shortage of intensive care unit staff.

These are the highly-trained nurses and specialized physicians who are providing minute-to-minute care for patients who are facing high-intensity situations during the critical life-threatening stages of COVID.

“Nurses, critical care nurses, respiratory therapists … We are having trouble getting that staff,” said Dr. Marc Napp, the chief medical officer for the Memorial Healthcare System, during a news conference.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been tracking the shortages with snapshot reports from 205 hospitals in Florida. The data doesn’t identify hospitals by name but it showed that as of Monday 12 hospitals had reported having a “critical staffing shortage” and 15 expected shortages. Meanwhile, The Florida Hospital Association reported on Monday that 60% of hospitals expect a critical staffing shortage in the next seven days.

Martha Baker, a trauma nurse and the president of Jackson Healthcare Union SEIU 1991, said taking care of COVID patients is tough work — especially when they have to turn them on their belly so they can breathe. She said it can require the force of a team of six. She also said that in her four decades of experience she has never seen such a shortage and aggressive recruiting.

“You are talking big bucks. If a nurse makes on an average $40 bucks an hour at Jackson, they were being recruited away for $120 to $140 bucks an hour,” Baker said.

“That is a real big challenge right now we are dealing with, and the only thing we can hope for is this surge that is going on really peaks out here pretty soon and we get back to a more normal environment,” Carlos Migoya, Jackson Health’s chief executive officer, told Gov. Ron DeSantis during a virtual meeting Thursday.

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