SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — With California hospitals dealing with an “extreme” number of patients, many are struggling to find enough staff to run nearly full intensive care units.
The state is urgently searching for 3,000 temporary medical workers to meet the demand, with a focus on nurses trained in critical care.
“Staffing is our number one challenge,” Governor Gavin Newsom said last week.
The state has contracted with two travel nursing agencies to find reinforcements, including San Diego-based Aya Healthcare, the nation’s largest travel nursing company.
“California has the most needs in the country right now,” said Aya vice president Sophia Morris. “It’s the number one state that we’re seeing need.”
Aya is onboarding new travel nurses as quickly as possible, Morris said, but at the moment they can’t keep up with demand. Right now, about one-third of the requests for travel nurses are going unfilled, said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.
“We are adding hundreds and hundreds of new clinicians to start, particularly in California, every week,” Morris said. “So it’s coming. I think it just feels like it’s not coming fast enough.”
Aya said it is on track to add about 780 more travel nurses in California by mid-January, on top of the 2,676 travel clinicians that are already on assignment in the state.
But some experts say it’s a particularly challenging time to find spare nurses with so many regions across the country dealing with surges.
On top of that, the number of registered nurses over 60 has dipped in California, according to researchers at UCSF, who found many older nurses stopped working out of concern for their health or the health of their family.
California hospitals are confronting the shortage by trying to free up staff any way they can, including postponing certain medical procedures.
The state has also temporarily loosened some restrictions. Typically, California requires one nurse for every two ICU patients. Regulators have temporarily relaxed that requirement to one nurse for every three ICU patients.
California has also shortened the quarantine period for healthcare staff exposed in certain situations from 10 days to 7.
The state has sent more than 600 temporary healthcare workers to hard-hit counties from the National Guard, the California Health Corps and other partnerships, but officials are still looking for more.
State officials have even started reaching out to other countries like Australia and Taiwan to get much-needed medical workers.