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UI hospitals head says virus surge leading to staff burnout



FILE - In this March 2, 2021, file photo, Hollie Maloney, a pharmacy technician, loads a syringe with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at the Portland Expo in Portland, Maine.(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The head of Iowa’s largest hospital said Wednesday that he’s worried a surge in coronavirus cases is burning out many nurses and other staffers.

Suresh Gunasekaran, the CEO of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, told reporters on a conference call that the hospital has hundreds of openings not only in nursing, but also for people in food service, housekeeping, maintenance and nursing assistance.

Gunasekaran said the current concern isn’t being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, but burning out workers who “have been working so valiantly for 18 months with this high volume, with this high level of moral and mental distress over the severity of the patients that they’re seeing.”

Patients are transferred to UIHC from other hospitals that can’t handle the additional patient load as coronavirus infections continue to rise.

The Iowa Department of Public Health said Wednesday that COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state jumped by more than 10% over the past week, to 638, the highest number since December 2020. The agency reported 81 additional deaths, bringing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 6,482.

State data shows that 18 children and six others ages 18 or 19 were hospitalized as of Wednesday. None of those young patients were vaccinated, though kids under age 12 aren’t eligible to do so. The number of patients in intensive care units rose to 161 and the number on ventilators rose to 74.

The UIHC is treating eight or nine children who were hospitalized with COVID-19, and its children’s hospital also has been slammed by kids with non-COVID-19 respiratory illnesses, Gunasekaran said. The combination has added additional stress to the system.

Hospitals in Iowa, as in many states, are facing significant worker shortages due mostly to the fact that the pandemic has stretched past 18 months and health care workers are retiring early, temporarily leaving or transferring to different jobs, Gunasekaran said.

“What I’m most concerned about is how much longer this pandemic is going to take and the toll that it has already taken on our healthcare workers,” he said. “We are paying a pretty heavy price in terms of the mental health of our workforce, in terms of the physical workload that they see day in and day out.”

All but one of Iowa’s 99 counties has a high rate of spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state’s vaccination rate has stalled, with 53.4% of its entire population fully vaccinated. That is the 23rd highest rate of any state, but it trails the national average of 54.8% and is far behind Vermont’s 69%, which is the country’s highest.

More than 3,000 Iowa children were among the state’s roughly 12,000 new COVID-19 cases over the past week, according to state data released Wednesday.

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