NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — One of Nashville’s most prominent hospitals is facing staffing issues amid a continuous surge of COVID-19 cases. Hospital administrators say it’s not patients they are being inundated with, but sick employees.

“We have tons of employees that have omicron COVID,” said Dr. Todd Rice, associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “They may not be that sick, but they are infected. So, they are quarantined at home and not eligible to work.”

Dr. Rice says VUMC is seeing different types of sickness from patients with omicron COVID than what they saw in patients with the Delta variant. “A lot of people are having an exasperation of an underlying disease. So, [if] they have heart failure — their heart failure gets worse because they have COVID.”

From learning to treat each new variant of the virus to dealing with staff members who have the infectious disease themselves.

“One of our biggest problems is just finding employees to take care of patients because we have so many employees that are out sick,” explained Dr. Rice. 

In dire need, VUMC is forced to reassign nurses and respiratory therapists in an effort to fill the void while staff is out sick. 

“We start having alternative staffing models where we will have an LPN, for example – doing a little bit more than they would otherwise do with more patients under the care of a nurse,” said Rice. 

If that doesn’t help, VUMC then assigns more patients per nurse – meaning more stress and a heavier workload for the staff that is healthy.

Dr. Rice says the hospital still works diligently to provide the best care and safety for their patients, even amid staffing woes. 

“Whenever we do that, the stress level and anxiety level goes up for everybody — the bedside provider, the respiratory therapist, doctors, the hospital administrators,” said Rice. “Everybody across the system gets considerably more stressed and higher anxiety level when that happens because we recognize it’s a time of increased risk.”

Stress has proven to be a detrimental factor for some of VUMCs employees. Rice says many have left the healthcare industry due to the strains of COVID. He says their biggest challenge will be finding experienced staff to continue in the work.

“As we get past the surge, things calm down and people start to reflect — we lose a lot of our personnel because they are burned out, they are tired, they are stressed and they don’t think they can handle this anymore. So, they go look for another employment opportunity.”

Rice says the hospital is now looking to offer things like more time off, decreasing workload, and decreasing individual demands while on the job.