NJ Hospitals Face Staff Shortage As Hospitalizations Climb

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy during his news conference about recent Covid-19 cases in his state, on Monday, January 3, 2022. (Office of the Governor)

New Jersey hospitals and long-term care facilities are facing staff shortages amid a “tsunami” of COVID-19 cases, and hospitalizations have climbed by nearly 60% since the end of last month, Gov. Phil Murphy and health officials said Monday.

Murphy, a Democrat, spoke during a remote news conference while he quarantines since his wife tested positive for the virus Sunday.

“This omicron tsunami has changed the game yet again,” Murphy said. “Take omicron seriously; wear your masks; get your booster don’t take a cavalier attitude.”

Hospitalizations in the state climbed from nearly 3,000 on Dec. 27 to over 4,700 on Sunday, according to the governor. That’s come as hospitals and nursing homes face staff shortages, Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said. She suggested that the shortage is due to staff being out sick and added that hospitals and nursing homes are planning for the loss of 30% of their staff at minimum.

Among the measures hospitals and nursing homes are taking are planning to increase shifts from the usual eight hours to up to 10 or 12, as well as redeploying administrative staff to work with patients, she said. They’re also planning to expand the number of patients that teams of health care workers see from up to eight patients to 15. Another change includes using EMTs to vaccinate people so that health care workers at vaccination sites can return to hospitals to alleviate the strain from staff shortages, she said.

The state Health Department and Office of Emergency Management is also working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help deploy “strike teams” to hospitals and nursing homes, Persichilli added, though details weren’t clear.

While hospitalizations in the state are not at the 2020 peak, they have surpassed that level in the southern part of the state, Persichilli said.

Like much of the rest of the country, New Jersey’s positive cases have skyrocketed due to holiday gatherings and the virulence of the omicron variant, according to Persichilli.