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Houston hospitals deal with staff shortage due to COVID-19

On Wednesday, 394 staff members across Harris Health System were out of work due to COVID-19. At the end of November, that number was 17.

HOUSTON — With weeks to go until health officials believe we will hit the omicron peak, some hospitals are already feeling the strain of this surge reporting hundreds of staff members out because of the virus.

Harris Health System is telling patients not to go to their emergency rooms unless they’re experiencing a true emergency, and not to go to their hospitals in search of a COVID19 test.

Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and CEO of Harris Health System, says its hospitals and clinics are dealing with an influx of patients.

“This is not a curve,” explained Porsa, “this is a straight line up. At the end of November, Harris Health System, we had a total of 14 COVID-positive patients in our system. This morning that number is 91.”

And as patients increase, hospital staff is decreasing.

“Just about a month ago we had a total of 17 people out due to COVID-19 precautions. This morning that number is 394,” Porsa said.

That accounts for nearly 4% of staff out of commission across the two big hospitals and 18 clinics.

“At some point, we are not there yet,” explained Porsa, “but we are getting very close to being in the situation where we simply don’t have enough staff to provide the safe, high-quality care that we are accustomed to providing our patients.”

Because of staff shortages, Porsa said HHS will temporarily close one of its clinics and shift staff to the hospitals.

Meanwhile, wait times are adding up at LBJ and Ben Taub Hospitals’ emergency rooms.

“They are long and they are getting longer. So, unfortunately, this is the reality,” Porsa said.

Health officials predict the peak of the Omicron wave will be mid to late January. Porsa is hoping that more people being vaccinated, along with what seems to be a more mild variant for many, keeps hospitalizations lower than during the delta wave.

“Because I promise you, if that happens, we are not going to be able to provide the care that we did previously,” Porsa said.

Porsa said the best protection against COVID-19 is to get vaccinated or boosted. And reminds the public to continue wearing a mask in public, to avoid large gatherings, to social distance and wash hand regularly.

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