Labor Day Is No Holiday For Frontline Healthcare Workers

This week’s Courier Herald column:

As we approach our second Labor Day of this pandemic we’re in a different yet familiar place as last year.  One year ago we had begun to tentatively re-open parts of the country.  “Two weeks to flatten the curve” had morphed into something much different.

And yet, after a mid-summer spike in Covid cases, the trends were positive this time last year.  While the vaccines that have provided both protection and peace of mind to many were not yet available, case counts and hospitalizations were declining rapidly.

We kept winning, until late October.  We then saw a new spike in Covid cases that peaked just after the new year began.  That peak was roughly double the case count from the summer of 2020.  We’re back to that level of hospitalized Covid cases now, with the numbers still rising.

What is different now is that we now know it didn’t have to be this way.  The vast majority of hospitalized individuals declined to be vaccinated.  This is putting a very real strain on our medical system, which has effects well beyond patients with Covid.

A notice from Georgia’s Department of Public Health last week noted that almost every Atlanta area hospital was on “diversion”.  This means that ambulances are asked to seek other hospitals when possible as the Emergency room on diversion status is too busy to handle additional patients. 

It’s not just an Atlanta problem.  Statewide, 88% of all hospital beds are in use.  94% of all ICU beds have patients. 

What happens when all the hospitals ask that ambulances take their patients elsewhere?  It’s mostly a lesson on why Economics is the dismal science.  Our politicians have created trillions of dollars to throw at this and many other problems over the past 18 months.  What they haven’t done is solve the problem of scarcity.

We’re all aware of the shortage of both goods and workers.  Shoppers with money in hand can’t find cars on dealer lots to purchase.  Many restaurants have curtailed hours or have even begun to close one or more days per week due to staffing shortages.  The reasons extend beyond economic assistance that has been criticized as a disincentive to work.

Older workers are rightfully concerned about increasing their exposure to the public.  Many parents have been forced to stay at home to monitor their children, whose schools continue to close for in-person instruction. 

All industries have experienced a reduction in the number of people willing and available to work.  This hits professions that require specific skills and training the hardest, which brings us back to the hospitals that are full.

Our hospital workers, EMT’s, and first responders are tired.  They’ve been fighting this battle on the front lines – risking their own personal health – for a year and a half.  They too are short staffed. 

Because the surge in Covid cases is nationwide, there are no other workers to bring to Georgia to treat our Covid or non-Covid patients. The system is operating at or beyond maximum capacity.  We’re literally out of healthcare professionals to treat additional patients.

Only about 1/3 of current patients are hospitalized due to Covid.  Every additional patient that ends up in an ER or ICU due to Covid is competing for resources that would otherwise be used to treat a patient having a heart attack, stroke, or who had been injured in an accident.

We can’t, in real time, create more skilled healthcare workers.  We’re now at the point of asking them to ration healthcare to decide who gets treated, and who does not.

That’s not what they signed up for.  On this Labor Day, think of their labor, and what it has meant to you and your family in times of need. 

If you’ve ever experienced the kindness of a nurse, the healing of a physician, or the immediate response to an emergency from a 911 call, then you know how badly we need every one of these people on the job. 

Labor Day won’t be a holiday for them.  Many are missing their regular days off.  Too many are quitting due to the stress, which is very real and shows no signs of letting up.

If you’re currently unvaccinated, please – please reconsider making an appointment to get a shot.  Get out of the mindset of politics.  Instead, think about the workers and the hospital beds we need to treat every day illnesses and emergencies.  Getting vaccinated is the best way to thank these people for their own effort and sacrifices over the last year and a half.


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