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Staff shortages at critical condition

During the coronavirus pandemic, if you've got medical

During the coronavirus pandemic, if you've got medical or nursing expertise, if you work in industries like food or environmental service, if you can help our hospitals at all, we need you. Credit: Getty Images/ljubaphoto

 This isn't just any "Now Hiring" notice.

This is a desperate plea.

We need you. If you've got medical or nursing expertise, if you work in industries like food or environmental service, if you can help our hospitals at all, we need you.

But we especially need those with respiratory and technical expertise, the therapists and technicians who intubate patients and operate the ventilators.

More hospital facilities are coming. Northwell Health is adding 2,400 beds throughout its system. Field hospitals are planned for the campuses of Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbury. Tents have come to Central Park; beds are being added at the tennis facilities at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

But as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has emphasized, there is still an important missing piece: People. 

The need is especially pressing for specialized medical staff, most critically, the licensed technicians and therapists who can operate ventilators. According to state license registrations, New York has only 6,832 licensed respiratory therapists, and another 881 respiratory technicians; both categories have the expertise to handle the ventilators. About 1,300 of them are on Long Island. 

But hospitals also require more nurses, physicians and others. And as health care workers become exposed to the virus and are quarantined, or become sick, the potential staffing shortage will become more acute.

New York officials are begging other states to send their medical personnel here, suggesting that we'll repay the favor once the coronavirus pandemic crisis is over here. And there is some help already in the house. With elective surgeries stopped, administrators can move some personnel within a hospital onto the COVID-19 units. And about 82,000 retired medical professionals have come forward to help. Most of them, however, don't have the ventilator expertise.

So, Cuomo is right to find ways to move staff from upstate to downstate, and to seek other states' personnel. The problem, however, is that other states think they'll face similar shortages, and don't want to give up their trained workforce. But New York's situation is so extreme, that the sharing of resources, including staff, is critical. Federal officials could help make that happen, by coordinating staff movement, and helping the states that need the most. Meanwhile, it's worth considering ways to make it easier to add more foreign medical workers, and finding ways to speed up the credentialing process.

Also helpful: Pearson Vue, the company that handles much of the testing for medical and nursing specialties in New York, has reopened 150 of its testing sites nationally, including one in Islandia, after initially shutting them all down because of the initial shelter orders. That could help those who have the education and skills and simply need to pass a test to complete a licensing process. Expanding online training and testing would help as long as licensing requirements are met. 

As beds and facilities are added, hospitals look for workers in some of the more ancillary fields as well, like those who keep the hospital spaces clean and disinfected and those who provide food service, along with aides, orderlies and others.

Help Wanted.

Help Needed

The editorial board