Severe problems facing American health sector

January 16, 2022 - 16:54

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, hospitals in nearly half of American states are close to near full capacity as the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the Coronavirus sweeping across the country hits record numbers of infections.

President Joe Biden has ordered the deployment of more military health personnel to "hard-hit" states to help with staff shortages and provide relief efforts. 

Biden announced the phased dispatch of 1,000 military health personnel saying "I know we're all frustrated as we enter this new year", reiterating his message that COVID-19 remains a "pandemic of the unvaccinated." He says the military deployment would help hard-pressed hospitals “nationwide”.

Hospitals that are set to receive the military deployments have cautioned that teams ranging in size from seven to 25 might not be enough to slow the surge.

Bob Riney, the president of healthcare operations at Detroit's Henry Ford Health System, which has already received some federal help and expects to receive more military medics says "We have systemic challenges (with) incredible volume and very, very tired medical practitioners ... and that is true of all health systems that have been in the middle of this surge”, adding "there is not a silver-bullet solution”. 

The military will assist health care systems in states where patients suffering from other diseases that are being deemed “not urgent” will get their treatment postponed to make space for covid infections. They will also fill staffing gaps as more and more infected health care workers themselves are taking days off to recover, while patient demand grows.

The Pentagon says it has around 1,000 additional active-duty medical troops ready for deployment to civilian hospitals around the country if needed.

In addition to the active-duty assistance, more than 15,000 National Guard troops have been activated in 49 states to help with the pandemic response in areas including clinical care, testing and vaccinations.

The announcements are strikingly similar to the earlier days of the pandemic in the United States when the active-duty military was called up, hospitals struggled to treat waves of patients sick with COVID-19. The only difference is that during those difficult times, vaccines had not been approved yet. 

Alabama, Missouri, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin have been reported to be among the states suffering from a particular shortage of ICU beds.

Texas had the fewest free ICU beds available at around seven percent. Data suggests Southern and Midwestern states have been disproportionately affected.

In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee says hospitals will temporarily stop non-urgent procedures "so as much capacity and staff can be dedicated to emergent needs, the people who need this right now”. 

In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers says National Guard members will be trained as certified nursing assistants to support hospitals and nursing homes. He says "we're estimating the first round of staffing and relief rollout will allow skilled nursing facilities to open up 200 or more beds by the end of February" as the state announced a record number of confirmed cases.

Alabama state reported a record number of children hospitalized with coronavirus this week, due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant. At least 60 children had been hospitalized with 13 receiving treatment in intensive care.
The state has recorded a number of record case highs throughout January as state health officials told the media they were “extremely concerned” about the rise of hospitalizations among children and parents to get their children inoculated.

As the surge ripples from state to state, the impact on health systems has been worsened by the exhaustion of even the reserve of traveling nurses who are also becoming infected in droves.

Lisa Greenwood, the associate dean of nursing at Madison College, which is training the Guard members has warned that "our health care providers are beyond exhausted. We simply do not have enough staff to care for all those who are ill”. 

Data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows at least 85% of adult intensive care unit beds were in use across 19 entire states, while in 24 states at least 80% of staffed hospital beds were occupied.

More than 5.5 million new cases were recorded over a seven-day timeframe, by far surpassing all previous records. The number of people hospitalized with the virus has also hit new highs.

According to U.S. media, more than 2,224 deaths from COVID-19 were recorded on January 13. The daily average in deaths is 1,873, twice as high as at the end of November 2021. Experts say these trends are strongly expected to continue with the fast spread of infections.

The average in new cases has reached over 800,000 per day, an unprecedented pandemic high. On January 13, more than 889,000 new cases were reported, and more than nine million cases have been logged since the New Year. At the present rate, the U.S. can expect to have documented 70 million COVID cases anytime now depending on which data being published that the American public deems as a reliable source.

The cumulative death toll has reached 870,000. However, according to the Economist, excess deaths are now over 1.1 million. In historical terms, the scale of death is reaching the proportions of death that occurred in the population during the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Meanwhile, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the national infection rate has reached 26 percent, which underscores the massive undercounting being announced and the scale of infection that continues to run rampant across the country. 

Biden has also promised he would direct his administration to procure an additional 500 million COVID-19 home tests to help meet surging demand. The White House had previously pledged to make 500 million tests available starting in January. 

The U.S. President won the Presidential race pledging to lift the threat of the pandemic and promising to handle the virus much better than his predecessor. Having finished his first year in office, things are not going to plan. Over the past few weeks, Covid-19 cases have reached record levels; deaths are rising nationally and the number of Americans hospitalized with the disease is higher now than at any previous point during the pandemic.

Long lines to get a Covid test and low availability of at-home tests have sparked criticism of the White House’s readiness, while different guidelines and confused messaging from public health officials has left the disease-weary public both frustrated and confused. 

That has led to a significant drop in public confidence with the new White House coupled with a drop in Biden’s overall approval ratings. 

Despite attempts by the Biden administration to downplay the dangers posed by Omicron, the pressure on health systems is creating a severe health crisis in America led by the staff shortages to which the White House has no serious response apart from pledging to deploy more medical troops. 

The U.S. President blames too many Americans for still "sitting on the sidelines" of the pandemic fight because they haven't taken the vaccine. "If you haven't gotten vaccinated, do it" he says. "But as long as we have tens of millions of people who will not get vaccinated, we're going to have full hospitals and needless deaths" Biden added.

Critics argue the administration has not done enough to convince the public to take the vaccine. 

This comes as the Supreme Court last week dealt another blow to the president’s vaccine-only plan by rejecting a national vaccine-or-test requirement for large US businesses.

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