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Sources: Atrium staffing, bed shortages pose risk to patients

Employees at multiple Atrium Health facilities tell the WBTV Investigates team that patients could be at risk because of a shortage of staff and beds at the main campus.
Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 4:36 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 24, 2021 at 8:27 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Employees at multiple Atrium Health facilities tell the WBTV Investigates team that patients could be at risk because of a shortage of staff and beds at the main campus.

Multiple employees confirmed to WBTV that patients headed to the emergency room at the Carolinas Medical Center campus two weeks ago had to be diverted because of a lack of available space and influx of patients.

Records provided to WBTV from an Atrium employee show that on numerous occasions there have been shortages of registered nurses and healthcare technicians across virtually all departments at the CMC, including critical care.

The records show gaps of one, two and even three employees in surgical, oncology, cardiac and other departments.

Sources also confirmed to WBTV that many of Atrium’s CRNA’s had been notified they need to be on standby to work in ICUs. The sources said that CRNA’s would help as auxiliary staff and provide basic help such as checking in on patients.

Update: According to a source CRNA’s at Atrium have been requested to work in ICU’s as advanced practice nurses - these CRNAs are placing breathing tubes, inserting arterial lines, etc. and have been a huge help to ICU employees who are exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally.

On top of the staffing issues, employees say that some of the locations are overflowing with patients. Sources told WBTV that some ICU rooms are doubled up and on other occasions, intensive care patients have been sent to the surgery recovery room (PACU) because of a lack of space.

Atrium employees spoke to WBTV on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions at work. Some of them expressed frustration that the hospital system was not being transparent about the current situation and how it could be detrimental to patients.

Nurses WBTV spoke with said they were worried that non-covid patients who would normally receive treatment at the hospital might not be able to get life-saving care because of capacity and staffing issues.

“What’s scary is that we can’t even care for normal patients that have to be hospitalized,” One Atrium employee told WBTV.

Already WBTV has reported on a woman who was discharged from Atrium’s Pineville location only to go back to a different hospital days later.

Despite numerous requests from WBTV, Atrium has routinely not provided data on capacity at its locations. WBTV also asked Mecklenburg County Public Health Department if Atrium had made them aware of any diversions at ER departments. A spokesperson for Public Health said they had not been made aware of any such situation.

A spokesperson for Atrium did not deny any of the reports given to WBTV by their employees.

In an email, the spokesperson wrote that they are experiencing conditions similar to other hospital systems across the country.

“COVID-19-related deaths in August and September are 7x higher than in June and July. And September is trending to be the deadliest month for COVID-related patient deaths this year,” the spokesperson wrote.

Similar to what Atrium employees told WBTV, the spokesperson wrote that the best thing to improve the situation at the hospital would be for people to get vaccinated.

“What no one could have predicted is that we have a known solution – a life-saving vaccine – that many are still choosing not to get. With 99% of COVID patients on life support being unvaccinated, it is clearer than ever that the vaccine is the best defense to help ease the strain being put on health systems and for the public to stay out of the hospital or die from COVID,” the spokesperson wrote.

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