Coronavirus News: Health care workers fear shortage of staff, supplies

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Hospitals across our area are facing the possibility of big shortages amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus outbreak, including beds, face masks, and even staff members.

Many of those who deal with patients face to face believe we could be doing a better job of protecting health care workers and patients.

With a US Navy hospital ship headed to New York City and more than 1,000 retired and private health care workers volunteering to help out, some doctors say it's still not enough.

"We can't take advantage of just volunteering," said Dr. Arthur Fougner, of the Medical Society of New York. "We have to make sure that the professionals are protected."

New York has 50,000 hospital beds, and Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state needs more than double that number.

The state also needs ventilators. It has 6,000, but officials expect to need five times that amount.

"That troubles me to no end," Dr. Fougner said.

So does staffing procedures. While every day people are required to self quarantine for 14 days after exposure to the virus, health care workers aren't being held to the same standard.

The Department of Health sent a memo to hospitals saying health care workers must be isolated for seven days and then should wear a face mask when returning to work for 14 days after the onset of symptoms.

And as this pandemic grows, all staff need to be assigned to treat all patients regardless of risk level.

"The way to deal with staffing shortages is not to keep sick workers on the job," said Lisa Baum, whom represents more than 40,000 nurses in the state of New York.

She says the relaxed guidelines put workers and patients at risk.

"If we don't protect our health care workers, who's going to protect the public?" she said. "We need to do better."

And despite when health care workers return to work, Dr. Fougner says they need to have the proper equipment to protect themselves.

There's a real fear that both beds and protective equipment will run out.

"We're fighting a war, and if we are fighting a war against a disease, you want the do it to be victors not vectors," he said. "Otherwise, the last thing you want is the doctors to be the sources of the spread."

The state Department of Health has not responded to a request for comment about the concerns.

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