The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented worldwide strain on health care resources around the world. These issues force medical professionals to do the best work they can without essential resources.
Here are five of the most critical resource shortages they must contend with in their line of work.
1. Human Resources
The novel coronavirus caused multiple staffing problems. First, medical workers found themselves busier as cases rose. Moreover, many had to take time off work after becoming ill with the virus or hearing they were close contacts of people who contracted it.
As of mid-January 2021, Ireland’s health care system had nearly 6,400 professionals out of work for those reasons, including 2,500 nurses. The shortages forced some hospitals to close wards or delay non-essential care. Nursing homes are also feeling the strain, with soldiers from the country’s Defense Forces getting deployed to ease staffing pressures.
Hospitals in the United States dealt with ongoing staff shortages during COVID-19 surges, too. Coverage from November 2020 indicated that facilities in 25 states had such issues, causing numerous complications. Intensive care unit nurses who typically only cared for two patients simultaneously increased their workloads to as many as eight patients in Texas. Patients often had to travel hundreds of extra miles to reach hospitals with the staff to care for them, too.
News of COVID-19 vaccine approvals gave many people much-needed hope. However, the rollouts have included plenty of logistical challenges. One is that the vaccines in use so far require people to have two doses for maximum effectiveness.
Additionally, U.S. states are largely on their own to distribute the vaccines and ensure patients get appointments for both shots. Some areas don’t have enough people trained to administer the vaccines.
Officials in the United Kingdom made the controversial decision to space the two shots up to 12 weeks apart, even though there is only efficacy data for a three-week gap. They asserted that this move makes the first dose available to more people, providing them with some protection during a vaccine shortage.
In California’s Los Angeles County, technical problems with a vaccine registration system forced hospital systems to use internal electronic health record systems for tracking.
However, even having a functioning appointment-booking system did not let states escape problems. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio recently warned the vaccine supply would run out in a week unless more doses arrived. Some patients who’d received their first doses learned they couldn’t schedule their second doses yet due to the limited supply. These prolonged problems may mean officials have to temporarily freeze the online system that lets eligible people book vaccination appointments.
Many people overlook the importance of electricity in fighting a pandemic. They take it for granted, assuming it’s always available, and treat power outages as inconveniences that only occur rarely. However, planned power cuts happen frequently in many parts of the world when the electricity supply cannot keep up with demand.
COVID-19 only makes the problem more apparent, such as when patients need high-tech equipment and consistent oxygen supplies to survive.
A sad example occurred in an Indian hospital, where three COVID-19 patients died during a power outage lasting more than two hours. Although the facility had backup generators, it lacked enough fuel to keep them running.
Something similar happened in Mexico, where wire theft at an electrical substation reportedly disrupted the electrical supply on two separate days, leading to five COVID-19 patients’ deaths. Physicians in the affected hospital said the on-site generators did not work.
Outdated infrastructure can also cause problems. Research indicates that’s why the U.S. has more power outages than any other developed country. Data shows that large U.S. hospitals consume about 194 trillion Btu of electricity. That amount drives home how crucial reliable power is for medical facilities, and not just during a global pandemic.
Health care workers worldwide have faced bed shortages during the pandemic, pushing them to take drastic measures. Physicians treated patients in a hospital parking lot when the facility did not have enough beds. People also waited in ambulances for hours until beds became available.
In Saskatchewan, Canada, the government’s health data tracked a 400% rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations within a month. Officials confirmed that half of all available beds would fill with COVID-19 patients if nothing changed. Seoul, South Korea, recently had only three critical care beds for an area with almost 16 million people.
These problems led some nations to set up temporary hospitals. However, these measures did not always solve the issues, especially due to the previously mentioned staffing shortages.
5. Oxygen Delivery Mechanisms
People who become seriously ill because of COVID-19 often need oxygen therapy to improve their survival chances. There’s not always a shortage of oxygen itself, but rather inadequate infrastructure for getting it to patients.
More specifically, shortages exist for the canisters that hold the oxygen, and the concentrators that extract it from the air. Some vendors also reported limited supplies of the tubing that helps oxygen reach the patients who need it.
A related problem is that the massive volumes of liquid oxygen in patient rooms caused equipment to freeze, causing care complications. Oxygen’s storage requirements mean health care workers often see small amounts of ice forming on the equipment.
However, COVID-19 worsened the issue, making professionals resort to hosing down the machines or switching patients to different delivery methods.
COVID-19 was a health crisis even before these shortages exacerbated the situation. Medical workers must make difficult decisions every day when choosing the type of care patients need and which people are most likely to survive.
These choices are now even more daunting when staff members often lack the resources that enable them to provide the best options.