New York, NY – Hospitals didn’t listen to warnings from nurses and other healthcare workers at the start of the Covid pandemic and they aren’t listening to them now as the Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm hospitals once again.
“We didn’t listen to them before the pandemic. We thought we were fine and could coast and things got worse,” New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams told reporters on Tuesday morning.
Although early indications are the Omicron variant poses little serious harm to most fully-vaccinated people — healthcare workers around the state still contending with Covid burnout, understaffing and a lack of adequate resources — fear the highly contagious variant and less than sufficient vaccination rates spell serious trouble in the weeks ahead.
“We have to anticipate what’s happening and adjust. That didn’t happen. I’m not sure that happening now,” Williams said.
Ad hoc testing sites around the city meant to help people determine their Covid status so they can take appropriate quarantine measures — have already become overwhelmed. At home testing kits — even for those who can spare the expense — are becoming harder to find.
Short staffing at hospitals around the state also remains a chronic problem. Legislative remedies to address the ongoing issue were signed into law back in May, but won’t start kicking in until the new year. And even then, it remains unclear just how effective the new committees the law stipulates to recommend safe staffing levels inside hospitals — will actually be.
Last March, a study conducted by Linda Aiken of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing and published in the journal Medical Care, found that between 2017 and 2018, staffing ratios at 116 New York hospitals treating Medicare patients were already averaging 6.3 patients per nurse.
According to the survey, adding just one patient to a nurse’s average workload correlated to longer hospital stays, readmissions — and a 13-percent increase in deaths.
Manhattan Borough President-Elect Mark Levine — who at one time was accused of downplaying Covid’s initial threat — said New York nurses need more than empty platitudes to confront another potential wave of Covid hospitalizations.
“Just to call nurses heroes is not enough — they need action and they need resources,” Levine said this week. “Until we do that the rhetoric is just hollow.”
Both Williams and Levine are vaccinated and both have come down with Covid, but appear fine. To date, the virus is blamed for killing more than 800,000 Americans across the country.
Williams decried the “pressure put on nurses” and said steps need to be taken to “change behavior” and prevent people from having to end up in the emergency room in the first place.
“Other parts of the country are way ahead of New York City on this,” he said.
The public advocate is also stressing the need to extend hazard pay to frontline workers, as well as providing overall compensation packages sufficient to attract others nurses to the vital profession.