MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Medical professional say the rising number of COVID-19 cases runs the risk of hospitals reaching capacity.

The surge, they say, is putting a strain on health care workers and hospital staff who have to take care of COVID and non-COVID patients.

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Martha Baker, the head of the union that represents more than 5,000 Jackson Health employees, spoke with Jim DeFede about those concerns.

BAKER: They’re tired. They need time off. They need more nurses. And now we have more COVIDs than ever.

DEFEDE: Let’s talk about the staffing level. So, like, how many nurses would you typically have per patient?

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BAKER: Well, for an ICU, it’s, you know, the typical one-to-one, one-to-two ratio. One nurse has either one patient, if they’re extremely sick, which the MICU has eight COVIDs in one of their units. And for them, they are one-on-one. And sometimes that gets stretched, and they all have to take on two patients. And that’s, that’s unfortunate. That’s when patients don’t get turned. That’s when patients don’t get the care they deserve. That’s when the nurse doesn’t get to go to lunch. You know, that’s, that’s tight. That’s hard times right there. And you hope that doesn’t, you know, fall but once in a while, but, you know, it’s happened all too frequently. And we just got off the phone with our chief nurse, and I think she’s going to try and fix it, but, you know, nurses emptying trash cans because housekeeping doesn’t want to come into a room that’s got a COVID patient. I mean, nurses are doing unbelievable things. You know, charge nurses are taking patients when they’re normally supposed to be free so they can help you. It’s tight.

DEFEDE: Do you feel comfortable sharing the story you were sharing with me about one of the nurses, what they said, an anecdote that they relayed to you just recently? The nurse who was taking care of two patients who both passed away.

BAKER: Yeah, yeah, there was one ICU nurse in the MICU, he shared that story with the chief nurse. You know, I believe these two patients sounded like they were so sick they were most likely not going to make it. They were extreme COVID positive patients in what you call proning, where they turn them on their belly so their lungs ventilate better. They’re on breathing machines, on vasoactive drips and CVVHD and ECMO and all these, you know, very, very, very labor intensive maneuvers to try and save their lives. And both patients ended up dying on the same shift. And this nurse couldn’t be with both patients, obviously. And with how sick these patients were, perhaps death was imminent. But it’s a horrible toll to know that they should have been single and they were doubled. And you should have a charge nurse free at all times to help with those emergency situations. And too often the charge nurses are taking patients. And then that’s, you know, 15% of the charge nurses today at Jackson have patients. And, again, we’re at 85% capacity. So my biggest concern is not necessarily today. We’re tight today. We’ve got 15% of our units are so tight staff that the charge nurse has patients. And still, we, you know, we think tomorrow will be worse. We think next week will be worse. This trend in patients is in COVID patients and in our volumes that our hospitals is just going up. So it’s of concern. I think we have to manage it. I don’t recommend we have to shut it down and cancel electives, but we do have to manage it. And be very aware of our nursing capacity and our hospital capacity. And it’s not just having an open bed, we’ll have a patient. We’ve got to manage it with our staffing. Especially in recognition that our nurses are going into, you know, a second battle and we’re limping.

DEFEDE: That’s not something that’s easy for you to admit, right? I mean, I’ve known you for a long time and your nurses tend to soldier through almost anything. For you to admit that they’re hurting and they’re limping through this, that’s a that’s a big statement coming from you.

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BAKER: Yeah, I was quite shocked at our meeting with many staff nurses yesterday, what I heard. And, you know, I’m not trying to bash Jackson. I love Jackson as a nurse there for 35 years. Proud to be president of these nurses and doctors and health care professionals that work so hard. I think they’re the best, not only in Florida but in the country. But we cannot have elected leaders saying it’s OK to open up and put the health of our community members at stake. And we have always said from the inside of Jackson, if we ever see it looks dangerous, we will speak up. And that’s what we’re doing now.

Jim DeFede