Ballad Health: Staffing issues creating difficulty amid COVID surge

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen over the last month. That is raising deep concerns among Ballad Health officials as they try to provide care while short-staffed.

Officials expressed their concerns that Ballad hospitals could get more crowded as the year goes on in a briefing Wednesday morning. It was the first briefing from Ballad since May.

On Wednesday, there were 46 hospitalizations from COVID-19 at Ballad facilities, including 12 patients in the Intensive Care Unit and 5 on a ventilator. Just a month ago on June 30, there were 27 hospitalizations with 4 in the ICU and one on a ventilator.

The spread of the Delta variant, primarily among unvaccinated individuals, is putting Ballad in a difficult spot as they suffer from increased demand and staffing shortages.

Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine said the situation is getting worse day by day.

“Yesterday, we had 90 patients holding in our emergency departments for in-patient admission,” Levine said. “Today that number is up to 119.”

Those individuals require hospital beds, but Ballad lacks the proper staffing to care for them at such high demand. That could mean larger issues later this year.

“We’re very concerned about it based on what we see today,” Levine said. “Add it to it any incremental volume from COVID and then throw on top of that the influenza virus in the Fall.”

Officials worry there could be 120-150 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 across the Ballad system by October. Other areas of the hospital would be impacted by such an increase.

“When that happens, we’ll obviously have to start looking at things like deferring elective cases again,” Ballad COO Eric Deaton said at the briefing.

The health care industry was already suffering from a nurse shortage prior to the pandemic. The stress of managing so many patients has made the shortage even worse.

“Our nurses stuck it out through COVID,” Levine said. “Our nurses were tired and we lost some of our nurses that just didn’t want to work at the bedside anymore.”

East Tennessee State University College of Nursing Interim Dean Dr. Kathyrn Wilhoit said there has never been a more trying year for nurses.

“The clinical nurse has experienced workloads and patients that are extremely ill,” Wilhoit said. “It’s almost a feeling of desperation from a couple nurses because they are trying to get everything done.”

Wilhoit said ETSU is recruiting heavily toward their nursing program to train more nurses and help fill some of the shortages. She said over 50 percent of ETSU’s May College of Nursing undergrad class was hired by Ballad Health.

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