In recent months, emergency departments across the United States have capitulated. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, a salient problem is now permeating the fabric of U.S. hospital care, with insufficient hospital beds, burnt-out doctors and nurses and near-universal staffing shortages.
Dr. Eric Dickson, President and CEO of UMass Memorial Health in Central Massachusetts, told boston globe: “When health officials ordered a halt to elective surgery during Covid-19, people thought it was temporary. The difference now is we don’t see the end. We don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is not the surge we’re dealing with. This is the new reality.”
Boarding is disrupting emergency departments
A big cause of trouble is so-called boarding, which occurs when patients are left in emergency departments after admission because there are no available inpatient beds. In a letter to President Joseph Biden from more than 30 medical schools and national associations, including the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), the American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM) and the Association of Emergency Nurses, healthcare leaders implore The government recognizes and addresses these most pressing problems. “Boarding has become its own public health emergency, and our nation’s safety net is on the verge of being beyond repair.”
The letter went on to outline potential problems caused by boarding, “While the causes of emergency room boarding are manifold, unprecedented staffing shortages across the healthcare system have recently brought the problem to crisis point, further exacerbating stress and Burnout is driving the exodus of currently excellent doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.”
Winter brings this crisis to a head. In many parts of the United States, the “triple threat” of influenza, a surge in Covid-19, and RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, in the pediatric population has placed an insurmountable burden on emergency departments across the country. The letter goes on to ask the President: “The undersigned organizations hereby urge the Administration to convene a summit of stakeholders from across the healthcare system to identify immediate and long-term solutions to this pressing problem. “Breaking Point,” the letter explained: It is completely outside the control of the workers and asks the government for help.
Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are exhausted
Another problem exacerbating the current crisis is healthcare worker burnout. Nearly 63 percent of physicians will feel burned out in 2021, according to a recent study published by the American Medical Association (AMA). These statistics don’t just apply to doctors; nurses, physician assistants, technicians, and other healthcare workers report similar burnout numbers. Burnout and feelings of overwhelm have plagued U.S. health workers, reflecting a systemic breakdown in health care. “While burnout manifests itself in the individual, it originates in the system,” says Chrisine Sinsky, MD, AMA’s vice president of professional satisfaction. Burnout is not the result of physicians’ inflexibility, but rather the system in which they work. “
Burnout rates are a major contributor to staffing shortages and need to be addressed. The letter to President Biden acknowledges the problem and calls for solutions: “Emergency room overcrowding and boarding is a significant and growing contributor to physician and nurse burnout as they have to watch patients unnecessarily decompensate or die, despite their best efforts to keep up with the increasing number of increasingly sick patients coming in.”
Healthcare workers who experienced burnout had significantly higher rates of early retirement and/or leaving medical practice altogether. It also leads directly to the loss of skilled healthcare professionals, adding even more pressure to those who stay. “It is critical that we end the cycle of emergency department burnout to ensure our nation’s health care workforce can meet the needs of its patient population,” the letter states.
It’s clear what’s wrong with America’s healthcare system. As this crisis looms over millions of Americans, the government and its agencies must recognize the magnitude of the problem and act accordingly.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.