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With COVID-19, hospitals feel strain of staffing shortages

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KWWL) ----- The biggest challenge facing a Dubuque area hospital when treating COVID-19 patients is not a shortage of beds or equipment, but rather of staff.

"The spread in the community is so high, that we see a lot of staff who are out, either being tested or with COVID," Robert Wethal, Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer at MercyOne Dubuque, said Thursday.

Despite immense precautions, hospital workers treating COVID-19 patients are also being infected, and that is creating a crisis for some.

"These patients are extremely sick. They take a lot of manpower," Wethal said. "We only have so many places to put you, and so many people to take care of you."

Active cases of COVID-19 have gone up 91% over a one-month span in Dubuque County, according to local officials. This is prompting county officials and area hospitals to begin planning for worst-case scenarios.

Talks of potential locations for field hospitals are coming up in recent county meetings--- for right now, it's a back-up plan.

"We're caring for everyone that we need to. We still have a lot of contingency plans in place," Wethal said. "We're monitoring our supplies very close. We feel confident there."

Wethal says many nurses go out sick or quarantine as they wait for test results. Wethal believes nurses have been rising to the occasion, working overtime through their fatigue to cover for their coworkers.

"They're the heroes for that, because they keep answering the calls [to work]" Wethal said.

As the holidays approach, we asked Wethal what the community can do to help the nurses out.

"Reduce that size of the gathering and wear masks. I thinks that's what we would love as an early Christmas present," Wethal said.

AJ Capuano

Dubuque bureau reporter, KWWL

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