The COVID-19 pandemic stressed our healthcare system in ways that go beyond overcrowded ICUs and lack of personal protection equipment (PPE). As doctors, nurses, and even medical students and residents were forced into roles they were not really prepared for, there have been lags in patient care that have, in some cases, even been deadly.
As the COVID-19 outbreak raged across the US and Indiana, hospitals found themselves overwhelmed with patients. The shortage of sufficient ICU spaces as well as ventilators has been highlighted widely in the media. Much has also been made of the lack of PPE for doctors and nurses working with COVID-19 patients. The lack of PPE has been mentioned as a possible cause of medication errors with many nurses avoiding entering patient rooms to administer dosages because of the lack of personal protection equipment.
There have been other ways that the pandemic has tested the healthcare system to the maximum. Shortages of personal protective equipment have increased with the spike in COVID-19 positive cases arriving at the nation’s emergency rooms and hospitals. There has also been a need for doctors and nurses to take on roles that they were not properly prepared for, or even trained for.
Nurses found themselves posted in departments that they had hardly worked in before, configuring ventilators and other equipment that they had no experience with. Medical students and residents were roped in at some hospitals to share the immense workload, again putting people who were not adequately prepared for their new roles, on the frontline. Residents have been pulled in from fields as far from their specialties as possible, like psychiatry, and have struggled to learn the ropes of critical care. Doctors in noninfectious disease specialties have been reassigned as medical interns. Nurses, who had been assigned to administrative duties, have been roped in to perform clinical duties after many years of such work.
Some hospitals transformed each and every square inch of space into ICU facilities. Beds were placed in hallways. Ventilators and other equipment have been donated to hospitals that were short of equipment, and that has meant staff being unprepared to calibrate new equipment that they have not been trained to use.
The pandemic is far from over, and no doubt, over the next few months, a better analysis and evaluation of what went wrong and how this can be avoided in the future will become necessary.