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Scripps Health starts delaying some medical procedures, citing workforce shortages and COVID-19 demand

Scripps Health operates Scripps Green (pictured) and Scripps Memorial hospitals in La Jolla.
Scripps Health, which operates Scripps Green (pictured) and Scripps Memorial hospitals in La Jolla, is facing a worker shortage.
(File)

Some outpatient locations may need to close due to too many unfilled jobs, the medical system says.

Scripps Health reported that it has begun delaying some medical procedures and is considering consolidating some of its outpatient locations due to a shortage of qualified workers as COVID-19 continues to increase demand for hospital beds.

Chris Van Gorder, the health system’s chief executive officer, said in an email Aug. 20 that the number of delayed operations remains very small — nowhere near the almost total shutdown of elective medical work in 2020.

So far, he said, only two previously scheduled operations had been delayed, but the process for expanding that number is now in play in a way that it was not last month.

“We are restarting the process where our physicians discuss load balancing based on our census, as we now have consistently more than a thousand hospitalized patients daily, and the increase in COVID ... is putting pressure on our ability to handle the load,” Van Gorder said. “For example, at one of our hospitals, we are converting a surgical intensive care unit once again to a COVID unit, putting pressure on our ability to put post-surgical patients in an appropriate bed.

“Staffing is more challenging now than at the height of the last major surge.”

Scripps Health runs medical facilities throughout San Diego County, including Scripps Memorial and Scripps Green hospitals in La Jolla.

Scripps declined to elaborate on which of its array of outpatient facilities it might close during the consolidation process.

Many medical officials have said in recent weeks that fewer health care workers, from nurses and doctors to technicians and therapists, are making themselves available to work as the Delta coronavirus variant sends daily new-case totals over 1,000, largely among the unvaccinated.

UC San Diego Health said Aug. 20 that it, too, had started rescheduling work, though, like Scripps, the number had been small — fewer than 10 cases.

Kaiser Permanente San Diego said in a statement that it “remains appropriately staffed and operational to provide care.” It did not respond to say whether delaying procedures or consolidating locations is part of its plan now or in the near future.

Palomar Health in North County said it had not postponed any scheduled surgeries and had no plans to do so, though an inability to hire more staff hampers plans to expand its offerings further.

Sharp HealthCare, the region’s largest integrated medical provider, did not immediately respond to a request for information.

Scripps put the finest point yet on the staffing situation in its statement.

As of Aug. 20, the organization said, it had 1,309 full- and part-time open positions, compared with 832 in August 2019. A total of 433 of those open positions were for registered nurses, compared with 220 during the same time in 2019, Scripps said.

The staffing shortage comes as hospitals across the San Diego area and the nation report increases in demand for service that includes an unusual bump in medical cases that are not related to the coronavirus. Much of the increase is being felt, hospitals said, in overcrowded emergency departments, and medical professionals say a significant proportion of those cases are related to delayed care from 2020.

— La Jolla Light staff contributed to this report.