Hospitals and other medical facilities have been struggling under the weight of competing crises during the coronavirus pandemic.
On one hand, there is the need to help the patients. Pennsylvania’s numbers are on an upswing as the state, like the rest of the country, tries to handle the spread of the omicron variant of covid-19 that came on the heels of the swell of the delta variant.
The Keystone State’s seven-day average of new cases is at a level it hasn’t seen since February 2021, pushing emergency departments and ICUs to their limits. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is adding covid beds.
On the other hand, the scale is tipping in the other direction. The availability of health care workers to do the job is dipping. After almost two years of dealing with a worldwide health emergency, the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are just not there.
Some are leaving the profession. In September 2021 alone, 17,500 people left working in medicine. Then there are the ones who died. In October 2021, the World Health Organization estimated that as many as 180,000 health care workers died during the pandemic.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Thursday on the Biden administration’s covid vaccine mandate could make the balancing act worse.
The court struck down the mandate that required businesses with 100 or more employees to have those employees get the vaccine or mask up and take regular tests for the virus, saying the federal government was overstepping its authority.
Except for one sector. Health care workers were still required to be vaccinated.
While it makes perfect sense that people who work with sick patients should be protected from the virus with the vaccines, splitting the difference does put hospitals and nursing homes in a difficult position.
Westmoreland Manor has about 77% of its staff vaccinated. It also has 11 staffers off work or in quarantine and has been perpetually advertising for employees for a year. A $2,500 signing bonus is being offered for the certified nurse aides who are the backbone of a nursing home.
But if employees don’t have to be vaccinated to work at a non-medical position — and there are plenty of those jobs open right now, too — employees who are already tempted to walk away are being handed a reason to do so.
Hospitals and other medical facilities need support to be able to help others. Making their job harder will only hurt the people who need help the most.