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Scripps Health is temporarily delaying some medical procedures that can be safely postponed due to significant health care workforce shortages and an increase in COVID-19 cases. On Saturday, the hospital system saw its highest number of COVID-19 related deaths in a single day. 

Across the state, and nation, nurses have been changing careers, retiring early, or taking on less demanding assignments in the wake of the pandemic, leading to the staffing shortages in many hospitals, including Scripps. 

Chris Van Gorder, the health system’s chief executive officer, said in an email that only two previously scheduled operations have been delayed, nowhere near the near-total shutdown of elective medical work undertaken in 2020. However, the process for expanding that number is in talks amongst the nonprofit healthcare system.

“We are restarting the process where our physicians discuss load balancing based on our census as we now have consistently more than 1,000 hospitalized patients daily, and the increase in COVID — up eight today to 174 — 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.

"The COVID pandemic has taken a serious toll on health care workers across the nation, and many have decided to leave the field entirely for reasons such as fatigue and burnout," said Van Gorder. "We’re doing all we can to fill open positions and shifts, but options are currently limited across the board in health care, so we’re doing what’s necessary to ensure we have staff available for our most urgent cases."

The organization said it has 1,309 full- and part-time open positions, 433 of those open positions are for registered nurses, nearly half the number of openings during the same time of year in 2019.

Decisions on which procedures are delayed are being made on a case-by-case basis by medical staff based on clinical factors according to a statement from Scripps. Emergency, time-sensitive care continues to be delivered. 

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