The healthcare industry was already understaffed before vaccine mandates hit. Now hundreds of hospital beds across the US are lying empty because there isn’t enough staff to treat patients.

louisiana covid hospital
Healthcare staff say they're feeling burned out and emotionally exhausted after working during the pandemic.
  • Hospitals are limiting how many patients they admit because of the labor shortage.
  • At one hospital in Massachusetts, nearly a quarter of beds are empty due to understaffing.
  • Its CEO warned that the hospital's vaccine mandate could cause more staff to quit too.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Hospitals across the US are having to limit the number of patients they admit because there aren't enough staff to treat them.

At the TaraVista Behavioral Health Center in central Massachusetts, nearly a quarter of its 116 beds are empty, CEO Michael Krupa told Bloomberg.

He said that across the state, there were hundreds of empty beds, and "the reason is exclusively staff."

Krupa said that the hospital had struggled to find nurses and lower-paid aides in the past, but that this hadn't limited its intake of patients before.

Healthcare staff say they're feeling burned out and emotionally exhausted after working during the pandemic, often in a poor working environment - and some have been leaving the profession.

Just over 20 million people across the US worked in the healthcare and social assistance industry in August, per preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is around 746,000 fewer workers than in February 2020.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed an executive order Monday declaring a "disaster emergency" due to "severe understaffing" in hospitals and healthcare facilities across the state. She warned that this could affect people's ability to get adequate medical treatment.

The shortage of staff comes as some hospitals and healthcare facilities are mandating COVID-19 vaccines for their staff. Some states, like New York, are mandating the shot for healthcare staff, too.

The vast majority of healthcare staff are either already vaccinated or plan to get the shot, but some healthcare providers have lost workers over the policy.

Houston Methodist Hospital said in June that it had lost 153 workers who either quit or were fired over its vaccine mandate. Novant Health, which has 15 hospitals and more than 350 physician practices across North Carolina, said this week that it had fired around 175 members of staff who refused to get vaccinated.

Some execs say they're reluctant to introduce mandates precisely because of this.

Kevin Smith, president of Massachusetts-based healthcare agency Best of Care, told CNN in August that he wanted to mandate the jab for his team, but that the policy "puts you at risk of alienating the staff, if not losing them to a competitor."

"No one can afford to do that," he added.

TaraVista's vaccine mandate comes into effect on November 1, and Krupa warned that it could exacerbate the hospital's understaffing.

"I am hopeful we will not lose many staff," he told Bloomberg. "But I know we will lose some."

Connecticut has mandated the vaccine for state staff, and its governor warned that he could even call in the National Guard to replace workers who don't comply to prevent staffing shortages.

Hospitals are boosting pay in an effort to attract more workers. One hospital in South Dakota is offering a $40,000 bonus for intensive-care and operating-room nurses. Krupa told Bloomberg that TaraVista and its sister hospital were investing an extra $1 million a year in pay, improved benefits, and bonuses for 310 staffers.

Expanded Coverage Module: what-is-the-labor-shortage-and-how-long-will-it-last
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