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Coronavirus puts pressure on a healthcare industry already facing personnel shortages

Updated: Mar. 19, 2020 at 6:34 PM CDT
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Unidentified healthcare worker in scrubs.
Unidentified healthcare worker in scrubs.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The COVID-19 pandemic is taxing a healthcare system already facing some worker shortages.

Even before the virus hit the U.S., the aging population was contributing to the problem. And now doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are tasked with trying to avoid catching the deadly virus as thousands of patients need their help.

Dr. James Diaz, Director of Environmental Health Sciences at LSU Health New Orleans’ School of Public Health, says many patients who develop severe COVID-19 infections like viral pneumonia or other serious respiratory distress will need to be put on ventilators and have around the clock attention from healthcare providers.

"And that requires a large number of personnel and equipment at the bedside including doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists,” he said.

America’s nursing shortage is epic, and many doctors and other healthcare professionals are reaching retirement age.

Dr. Patrick Delafontaine, Executive Dean of Tulane’s School of Medicine, said the current pandemic underscores the need for a growing number of medical providers.

"It's an acute reminder of some of the challenges we have as a nation in healthcare,” Delafontaine stated.

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that the national physician shortage could be up to 121,900 by 2032.

Delafontaine said the personnel shortages are impacted by various factors.

"For many reasons, one of which is the aging of the population and I think this illustrates to us that we are going to have to be more proactive I think in training new physicians, a new lot of nurses, a new lot of healthcare providers in general,” Delafontaine said.

Diaz says Louisiana produces a lot of highly specialized doctors and nurses but could always use more generalist practitioners.

"What we really need is more physicians in the primary care specialty,” said Diaz. "Family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics."

And given that, they encourage efforts to get more people interested in medicine at an early age. "The younger you start the better,” Diaz said.

As the novel coronavirus threatens to overwhelm the current healthcare landscape.

"We have to do everything we can to flatten the curve or reduce the rapid increase in cases because we don’t have the necessary infrastructure to deal with that,” Delafontaine said.

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