COVID

E.R. doctor says omicron surge is making it ‘nearly impossible’ to provide the ‘right care’ at the right time

“It’s just too much.”

Valerie Kiper, a registered nurse, treats Debra Collisgru, a COVID-19 patient, in the emergency room of Ocean Springs Hospital in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Rory Doyle/The New York Times

A local doctor is sounding the alarm that the omicron surge is making it ‘nearly impossible’ for emergency room physicians to provide the “right care” for patients at the right time. 

Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room physician and associate dean at the Brown University School of Public Health, laid out her concerns about how emergency rooms are being impacted by the latest surge in COVID-19 cases in an op-ed for The Washington Post

“Walking into a shift in the emergency department these days feels a bit like entering a disaster zone,” the doctor wrote. 

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Ranney described the myriad challenges facing emergency rooms, from closed beds due to staff shortages to bed-bound patients being stuck overnight in the department because no transportation is available.

She said that by the time she sees a patient, she is “playing catch-up on their pain, their illness and their frustration.”

“In the best emergency care, I work with my team to quickly stabilize a sick patient, create trust with them and their family, and then come up with a clear diagnosis and therapeutic plan,” she said. “I think about what needs to be done today to make sure they’re safe — and what needs to be done tomorrow, or in a month, to keep them from coming back.”

Pre-pandemic, that was possible, Ranney said, even when the system presented barriers or when there would be a short surge in acute patients due to events, such as a bad storm causing crashes or a bad flu season. 

But two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the doctor noted that health care workers are dealing with — depending on how it’s counted — the fourth or fifth surge in virus cases. 

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“As our health-care system is pummeled by yet another wave, it’s just too much,” Ranney wrote. “We never recovered from the last wave. Our bulwarks cracked, and then they were breached. It has become nearly impossible for us to take the right care of the right patient at the right time.”

The pandemic has laid bare the failures and inefficiencies of the health care system, including that emergency rooms and hospitals have “worked on a thin edge for a decade,” the doctor wrote. The surge after surge of COVID-19 has made it clear that the institutions can not continue to be a “safety net for a broken system.”

The distress among health care providers is accumulating, Ranney said. 

“It’s certainly because of the exhaustion of caring for horribly sick covid patients yet again — especially now that the disease is so preventable,” Ranney said. “But even more, it’s the moral harm from the other cases, the ones that have nothing to do with covid except that they’ve been overtaken by the pandemic. 

“It’s knowing that an elderly man was on a stretcher for hours with a broken hip, lying in his own urine, because there was no one to care for him,” she continued. “It’s the patient whose inflamed gallbladder smoldered while they waited. It’s the emotional exhaustion from assuaging the understandable anger of families calling for updates, only to be told that their loved one has not been evaluated yet after many hours in the waiting room.”

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Ranney said she once hoped that the pandemic would prompt change and movement to fix the broken system, since the answers for how to do so are already known. 

But the doctor said now she’s worried those changes won’t come. 

“It increasingly seems that after the pandemic we’ll be left with something far worse: scarcity, inaccessibility, compassion fatigue,” she wrote. 

Read her full op-ed at the Washington Post.

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