Houston-area hospitals facing staffing shortages as Omicron quickly spreads

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As the number of COVID cases across the country rise to an all-time high, many local hospitals are facing staff shortages because health care workers are out sick with COVID.

"Our numbers were at 393 yesterday and that number is 415 today, so every day we are losing more people due to COVID," said Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, the president and CEO of Harris Health System.

Dr. Porsa says there are 415 health care workers within the Harris Health System that were out sick Thursday with COVID. More than 100 of those workers are nurses.

Though it's only about 4% of the system's total workforce, he says staffing is a challenge right now as they are seeing hospitalizations go way up.

"At the end of November, just about a month ago, Harris Health System had a total of 14 COVID positive patients. That number this morning is 97," said Porsa.

At Houston Methodist, they are also feeling the stretch with many health care workers currently testing positive.

"We have just over 1,200 employees who are out with Omicron. That's of our 26,000 employees. While it seems like a small percentage, that does impact some of our ability to staff every one of the beds that we would like to have open at the present time," explained Roberta Levy Schwartz, the Executive Vice President at Houston Methodist.

Schwartz says each surge of this pandemic has been a bit different from a healthcare standpoint but never has she had this many employees infected with the virus at once.

"This is definitely new for us. I think our largest number that I can remember in the past was a little over 300," said Schwartz.

Schwartz says more people are heading to emergency rooms for care right now.

"When I tell you that our emergency rooms out in the community might normally see twenty-five people a day they are seeing 80-100 people a day. The numbers coming through the emergency rooms and through the systems of people who don't feel like they can manage this at home is astounding," said Schwartz.

The staffing shortage combined with the rising number of patients heading to hospitals impacts how long people will wait to get care.

"Waits for sometimes our virtual urgent care, sometimes that is up to four hours to wait to get on a virtual urgent care. Those are appointments in the past that you could probably get in 12 minutes," explains Schwartz.

Another current problem some hospitals are facing is people showing up to emergency rooms wanting to be tested for COVID.

"This is not the time to be coming to the emergency rooms for non-urgent, non-emergent health situations and it's definitely not the time to be coming to the emergency rooms to get tested for COVID," explained Porsa.
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