Recently, the news about the US healthcare system has been dire. ICUs are at capacity, and patients are spending days in emergency rooms because there are no available beds. There are stories of people needing medical care being turned away because there is no capacity to care for them.

While Omicron seems to have now peaked, hospitalizations tend to peak later than infections, so the crisis is far from over. Additionally, since the pandemic started, we’ve seen COVID surges subside only to discover a new variant rearing its ugly head and starting a deluge worse than the one we just weathered.

Why is our healthcare system so overwhelmed by the COVID pandemic?

❯ The sheer number of cases is stunning.

COVID is proving to be one of the most contagious viruses we’ve seen in our lifetimes. While the majority of people survive, many need to be hospitalized. Also, many people get scared and go to the ED because they don’t know what else to do.

❯ We again have limited testing capability.

Not everyone who wants or needs a COVID test can find one. While the Biden administration has offered free home tests to American citizens, production was not ramped up when it was needed: before Omicron surged. It could have been predicted, because it started in other countries before it reached our shores. How can healthcare workers appropriately treat patients with COVID if we must struggle to even get them tested?

❯ Nurses are in short supply.

It’s much easier to bring in new beds and set up field hospitals than to create new workers. However, patients can’t be put in beds that do not have skilled nursing staff to monitor them. It takes years to train a nurse. They can’t be replaced with ancillary staff. Nursing is not just about turning knobs and adjusting drips. Doctors rely on the medical knowledge of nurses to alert us when there is a problem. If someone is not educated to be a nurse, they do not have this acumen. We need more nurses.

❯ Doctors are overwhelmed.

We are seeing many more patients and patients who are sicker than we’ve ever seen. As the virus evolves, so does our understanding of how to treat it. We are in a constantly revolving door of learning new medical information and keeping up to date with current guidelines. There is little incentive to continue to subject ourselves to the whims of the pandemic, and it is quite traumatizing for many of us.