As more and more New Jerseyans become seriously ill with COVID, there are growing concerns about a shortage of doctors and nurses to take care of them as hospitals and long-term care facilities are reporting staff shortages.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Monday that the Health Department and the state Office of Emergency Management “are working with FEMA on requests for federal strike teams to support hospitals, and with the New Jersey National Guard for strike teams for our long term care facilities.”

Crisis plans developed

Persichilli said because of these staff shortages, all hospitals and long-term care facilities have been directed to “plan for and anticipate that at a minimum 30% of their employees may be out sick at any one given time.”

She explained beyond conventional staffing models, hospitals and nursing homes are developing contingency staffing plans, where everyone works longer hours.

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(Edwin J. Torres for Governor’s Office).
(Edwin J. Torres for Governor’s Office).
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“And then there’s crisis standards, where you totally change the way you take care of patients, making sure that all of the necessary and immediate needs are taken care of with the right skill mix,” she said. "You develop teams of specialists who visit patients every day, rather than teams of people having six to eight patients, they may have 15.”

She also noted a waiver has been signed to allow EMT personnel to help at vaccination sites across the state, so nurses and doctors can be re-deployed back to the hospital and long-term care settings.

Gov. Phil Murphy said “the staffing challenges, to use a technical term, bad. It’s bad in both hospitals and long-term care.”

Field hospitals back on the drawing board

Persichilli said there are also discussions about setting up field hospitals, similar to what happened in April 2020, so existing medical facilities don’t become overwhelmed with COVID patients.

She said if field hospitals are needed, they will be set up next to existing hospital campuses, not at some remote location, to maximize available staff in both settings.

Murphy noted when the pandemic first began and New Jersey got help from many doctors and nurses from other states that did not have high case totals, but that will not happen now because the omicron variant is causing major COVID surges across the entire nation.

“Those days are over, we’re all getting clobbered, there’s nobody coming in that’s not already in here,” he said.

The governor added there are no plans to put a freeze on elective surgery statewide because some hospitals have already started postponing surgical procedures that are not absolutely necessary to free up bed space for COVID patients.

Another developing problem is that with demand for COVID testing so high, some people are going to hospital emergency rooms to get a COVID test. The appropriate place to find tests is at covid19.nj.gov

Omicron impact on COVID cases in NJ

As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its third calendar year in New Jersey, some things have stayed true (hand-washing, advice to vaccinate) while others have evolved along with the latest variant (less monoclonal antibody treatments, new at-home anti-viral pills).

9 of the nation’s most miserable cities are in New Jersey