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As COVID-19 infections surge across the United States, 11 states could find themselves with too few doctors to treat non-COVID patients in intensive care units, a new report finds.
Arizona and Texas already have a shortage of such doctors, the researchers added.
"This week's update shows that Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Washington all could face a shortage of intensivists," said researcher Patricia Pittman, director of George Washington University's Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity in Washington, D.C. "In these states, less than 50% of intensivists are available for non-COVID patients."
This is affecting states currently seeing a surge of coronavirus cases. "Arizona and Texas face a shortfall of intensivists even just for the COVID-19 patients," Pittman added in a university news release. "Our estimator suggests that a rapid increase in severely ill COVID-19 patients could overwhelm understaffed ICUs in many states."
And the problem may be worse than the researchers predict. "We believe these are likely conservative estimates of the potential shortfall," as they aren't based on the highest estimates of coronavirus cases and don't include workforce infections and quarantines, Pittman noted.
While the focus has been on the danger of depleting ICU beds, workforce shortages in these units can be an even greater problem, the researchers said. New beds can be set up in other hospital units, or even outside the hospital setting, but ICU staffing is relatively finite, they explained.
Hospitalizations in six states aren't expected to peak until early November. The researchers said these states are most at risk of shortages and should consider workforce planning. The states are Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.
The Mullan Institute report was issued July 23.
-- Steven Reinberg
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