Dozens of hospitals, including UAB, ask for federal assistance to help with staffing strain

Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 8:25 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – A near three-month trend of climbing COVID hospitalizations peaked in early September and have been steadily decreasing, but State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said hospitals remain under tremendous strain.

“We still have places where staff are working around the clock many days a week for a year and a half so having additional staff is going to be something we need for the foreseeable future,” said Dr. Harris, Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

“New cases and new hospitalizations are trending down and that’s great, our hospital is still under tremendous strain because of the severe illness level of the patients we have, or what we call the acuity level is so high. We have a lot of critically ill COVID patients and non-COVID patients right now, and so that’s really why we are feeling such a tremendous strain,” said Dr. Sarah Nafziger, Vice President of Clinical Support Services at UAB.

Dr. Nafziger said UAB has tried other ways to find staff and is now joining dozens of other hospitals in the state in asking the federal government for help.

“Right now, I would say that our staff, there depleted, they’re exhausted. The staff that we do have, they’re tired of picking up extra shifts. They’re tired of coming to work day in and day out, they’re tired of abbreviating their vacations. They’re tired of missing their family events. They’re really ready for a break right now,” said Dr. Nafziger.

That break might come from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through a federal strike team - a group of doctors, nurses, therapists, paramedics and administration staff deployed for weeks at a time.

“Typically, HHS goes to the private market and hires healthcare professionals and you know, on contract, to constitute those teams, and there just aren’t any of those people out there, which is why the two teams we have now are actually active DOD troops because that’s the people that they have available,” explained Dr. Scott Harris.

Dr. Harris said the teams are “scarce resources” and that every state is asking for this assistance.

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