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A San Diego health system delays medical procedures due to staff shortage, COVID-19

Exterior of a Scripps hospital with vehicles parked in front
Scripps Health is facing a worker shortage.
(File)

Scripps Health has begun delaying some medical procedures and is considering consolidating some of its outpatient locations due to a shortage of qualified workers even as COVID-19 continues to increase demand for hospital beds, officials said.

Chris Van Gorder, the health system’s chief executive officer, said in an email that the number of delayed operations remains very small — nowhere near the near-total shutdown of elective medical work undertaken in 2020.

So far, he said, only two previously scheduled operations have been delayed, but the process for expanding that number is now in play in a way that it was not last month. The nonprofit healthcare system operates five hospitals and 19 outpatient facilities.

“We are restarting the process where our physicians discuss load balancing based on our census as we now have consistently more than 1,000 hospitalized patients daily, and the increase in COVID — up eight today to 174 — is putting pressure on our ability to handle the load,” Van Gorder said. “For example, at one of our hospitals, we are converting a surgical intensive care unit once again to a COVID unit, putting pressure on our ability to put post-surgical patients in an appropriate bed.

“Staffing is more challenging now than at the height of the last major surge.”

Scripps declined to elaborate further on which of its county-wide array of outpatient facilities it might close during the consolidation process.

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Many in recent weeks have said that fewer healthcare workers, including nurses, doctors, technicians and therapists, are making themselves available to work as the Delta variant continues to send daily new-case totals to more than 1,000, largely among the unvaccinated.

UC San Diego Health confirmed Friday evening that it too has started rescheduling work though, like Scripps, the numbers have been small — fewer than 10 cases so far.

Kaiser Permanente San Diego said in its own statement that it “remains appropriately staffed and operational to provide care,” but did not respond to say whether delaying procedures or consolidating locations is part of its plan now or in the near future.

Palomar Health in North County said it has not postponed any scheduled surgeries and has no plans to do so though an inability to hire more staff hampers plans to expand its offerings further.

Sharp HealthCare, the region’s largest integrated medical provider, did not respond to a request for information by press time.

Scripps put the finest point yet on the staffing situation in its statement Friday.

Today, the organization said, it has 1,309 full- and part-time open positions, compared with 832 open positions in August 2019. A total of 433 of those open positions are for registered nurses, a number that, Scripps said, was only 220 during the same time of year in 2019.

The staffing shortage comes as hospitals across San Diego and the nation report increases in demand for service that includes an unusual bump in medical cases that are not related to coronavirus. Much of the increase is currently being felt, hospitals said last week, in overcrowded emergency departments, and medical professionals say that a significant proportion of those cases are related to delayed care from 2020.


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