Polk County hospitals are running at limited capacity because of staffing shortages, increases in COVID-19 and normal summer injuries.
The demand for hospital beds in Polk County is greater than the number of beds available, according to a news release from the Polk County Health Department. Rising COVID-19 cases and typical summer trauma injuries like motorcycle, bike, ATV and pool injuries are filling up hospitals said Nola Aigner-Davis, Polk County Health Department spokesperson.
Dr. Aneesa Afroze, an infectious disease specialist at MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center, said her hospital is currently operating at full capacity. MercyOne and UnityPoint hospitals in Des Moines get many specialty care patients from small hospitals that fills them up, she said.
A 2020 report from the Iowa Department of Workforce Development found that finding qualified candidates was the most commonly reported workforce challenge for employers who hire nurses. Almost 70% of respondents to a survey said that they do not get enough qualified people to apply for nursing jobs, according to the report.
“The most important reason is across the state and even nation, there are staffing shortages,” Afroze said. “Less nurses means less beds. Same thing is happening in emergency departments.”
Trauma patients require several nurses to attend to them, Afroze said. During summer months, the number of people with accidental traumatic injuries typically increases.
COVID-19 is part of the problem, too. Because of increased community transmission, staff members also get infected and are out of work for about 10 days, which places further strains on staffing, Afroze said.
The COVID-19 surge in Iowa slowed somewhat in the last week, according to data released by the Iowa Department of Public Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. New COVID-19 cases reported statewide increased slightly this week to 3,960, up from 3,847 the prior week. The average of 566 cases reported per day was a slim one-week increase, but still was the most cases reported in a single week since early March.
But the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Iowa dropped for the first time in five weeks to 139 from 145. Community transmission is high, but hospitalizations are low, Afroze said. Twenty-five people in Polk County were hospitalized with COVID-19 within the last week, according to the Department of Public Health.
Infection waves in November and January were far worse, Afroze said. Right now the severity of cases is mild to moderate. Most COVID-19 cases can be handled in outpatient offices, she said. Sore throat, sniffles, low-grade fever and “just something that sounds like a simple cold” are the most common symptoms now, Afroze said.
“Vaccinated people, they are not as sick,” Afroze said. “The only people who get in the hospital are really people who are immunocompromised or very sick, need oxygen.”
Injured or sick people who are not in life-threatening situations should utilize urgent care offices or primary health care providers because hospitals are full, according to Afroze and the release. Emergency departments should only be used for high-acuity injuries now, Afroze said.
MercyOne Urgent Care centers in Pleasant Hill and Clive extended hours on Saturdays and Sundays to decrease the burden on hospitals, giving sick people places to go other than emergency rooms.
“They can offload some of the patient influx from the emergency department,” Afroze said. “That’s how organizations and systems should work I think, understanding where the need is and how we can take care of our community.”