© 2023 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Air Force medical team helping with staff shortage at Upstate University Hospital

Lt. Col. Venus Victorino, a critical care nurse, is a member of an Air Force team helping with a staffing shortage at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse
Ellen Abbott
Lt. Col. Venus Victorino, a critical care nurse, is a member of an Air Force team helping with a staffing shortage at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse

For the second time this year, a federal team of medical professionals is at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse to help it deal with a staffing shortage in the midst of the pandemic.

COVID-19 and a healthcare worker shortage have combined to force the hospital to close more than 100 beds in recent months. Upstate’s Brian Pratt says it’s not just treating COVID patients that’s the issue.

"There are a lot of things that were delayed during the pandemic. People maybe didn’t get regular health care like they did normally,” Pratt said. “So in addition to dealing with COVID, which is perhaps is on the downturn right now, there are a lot of non-COVID related things as well, and you put those things together and it creates a very stressed system."

So Upstate is happy to welcome a team of 40 doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and medics from the U.S. Air Force medical team who can help ease that stress. So far, it’s meant opening up a couple of dozen beds that had been empty.

“A 13-bed ward that was completely closed down we’ve been able to reopen,” said Dr. Christopher Tanski, an emergency room doctor at Upstate, who is also a member of a Federal Disaster Response Team. “And we’ve had other beds closed or reduced in other care areas because we didn’t have the staff to safely care for those patients. From that we added an additional capacity of ten beds. In addition, the medical staff are helping to cover issues because of physician shortages."

You may not think opening up some beds makes a difference but Pratt says it has an impact across all of central New York’s medical system.

“The emergency departments are backed up all around central New York. And if we can move patients out of the emergency department that need inpatient beds, that helps with the emergency department. It also helps having more inpatient beds available."

Lt. Col. Venus Victorino, an Air Force critical care nurse, said it’s unclear how long they’ll stay.

"The duration will be determined as the situation revolves. But our team will remain as long as needed.”

Two federal disaster medical assistance teams have already come to help out Upstate earlier this year. Tanski said with the Air Force team here, the hospital will double down on recruitment of more staff, and optimize care with the staff they have to try to deal with the crisis.

"With the presence of this team, the skills, the dedication, the efforts they’re going to bring, we’re going to be able to care for folks who would otherwise be waiting,” Tanski said. “So it’s a major shift."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.