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Hospital staffing concerns as COVID-19 hospitalizations increase in San Diego County

Posted at 5:59 AM, Dec 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-10 08:59:10-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – As more people are being hospitalized with COVID-19 across Southern California, some health care systems worry that lack of hospital staffing could become a big issue.

“We’ve got to take care of our health care workers, or we’re not going to have them to take care of the patients,” said Meghan Jaremczuk, a registered nurse and the Director of Progressive and Acute Care at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido.

Like many health care workers this year, Jaremczuk hasn’t had a break. She’s been taking care of COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic.

“Other people have been working from home, we're not, we're here, we're in it,” she said. “It’s been hard because this has been going on for a long time and people are tired, but they're still showing up. You're seeing people that can't be with their loved ones, visitors are very, very restricted. They can Facetime with their families and things like that, but it’s not the same.”

The County of San Diego reported an additional 15 deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday and a 62 percent increase in the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients in a two week period.

The Federal Medical Station set up at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido has 202 beds for non-ICU patients ready to go when needed, according to Palomar Health CEO Diane Hansen.

Hansen said the health care system has the ability to expand the dedicated 48 ICU beds to 110 ICU beds if needed, but said making sure enough health care workers are available is one of the bigger issues at this point.

“We do have capacity. We're seeing on average about 50 patients per day less than what we normally see this time of year,” said Hansen. “While we have capacity, my biggest concern is our ability to staff beds should the pandemic surge become greater.”

“Staffing is a concern because not every nurse can take care of every kind of patient,” said Jaremczuk.

Jaremczuk is most worried about the rapid rate of community spread. She said if nurses become sick, hospital operations could be disrupted.

While she understands many people are tired of constantly being told to mask up, wash their hands and avoid gatherings, she’s urging everyone to continue to follow the health guidelines to protect those who are giving their all to save lives.

“The patients also make an impact on our lives, we make connections and it's meaningful,” she said. “If we get exposed, if we get sick, we can't come to work and take care of patients.”