With flu rising, PPE and equipment shortages persist

With the rise in Flu cases and shortages of PPE and DME, hospital workers are at a disadvantage

With remnants of the Covid-19 pandemic still being felt in medical facilities nationwide, a wave of higher flu cases is also putting a strain on New Jersey hospitals, according to medical experts.

The Hudson Reporter has spoken to several medical officials in Hudson County who have indicated that continued shortages of Personal Protective Equipment and Durable Medical Equipment are still a troubling reality.

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Cases of Influenza have increased by 12.8 percent nationwide this week, with outbreaks of Influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus, a common respiratory virus, continuing in New Jersey—predominantly seen in school and child care settings, according to the NJ Department of Health.

At the outset of the 2022-2023 flu season, cases of Influenza are still moderate but trending towards “high” throughout New Jersey, according to a weekly medical surveillance report compiled by the New Jersey state health department and the New Jersey Communicable Disease ServiceThere have been no confirmed influenza-associated pediatric deaths reported this season according to the report.

“The underlying assumption is that the current Covid-19 pandemic is over in the United States, almost three years after the first reported infection,” wrote Dr. Eddy Brensnitz in a recent Op-ed, and is an adjunct professor of epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health.

Since the passing of the Covid-19 infections wave, many states such as New Jersey ended their Covid-19 Public Health Emergency declarations and mask requirements. According to the New Jersey Hospital Association, a non-profit trade organization in healthcare, over 35,000 flu related cases were reported from 2017 to 2018 compared to about 27,000 cases reported in 2018 to 2019 in New Jersey. 

This was the highest amount of flu related cases seen in the U.S. in 2017 to 2018, due to a low vaccination rate according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Influenza A, which is the most common followed by Influenza B, is at 68.4 percent based on this year’s reported data by the New Jersey DOH.

“The southeastern and south-central areas of the country are reporting the highest levels of activity, followed by the Mid-Atlantic and the south-central West Coast regions,” said Darin Soliman, who is the director of the Health and Wellness Center at NJCU.

NJCU is Participating in New Jersey’s 6th Annual College & University Flu Challenge to encourage students to get the flu shot.

Registered nurses such as Daniel McCarthy were alarmed to see the number of flu-related cases rising as he helped long term care patients recover from the Covid-19 virus. He recalled the time he was suited up in his VNS Health medical gear to face another wave of Covid-19 related patients. He wore clear goggles over his custom fitted N-95 face mask designed to filter out the worst of the bad air as he visited his patients at their homes.

He noted several of his long term care patients who were discharged from both NYC and NJ hospitals would come back to their houses with notable skin deterioration as the virus had chewed up their immune defenses.

“They were so beat up by Covid coming out of these hospitals, that they were going to die from symptoms related to it,” McCarthy said. “Their organs would eventually shut down and that’s when I knew they only had a few days to live…essentially they were sent home to die.”

Sometimes he would find himself hearing his patients talk about darkest secrets not even their own families knew about, holding their hands up until their very last breath. 

Over 200,000 long-term care facility residents and staff died across the nation due to Covid-19 according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on policies within healthcare. 

Government officials made decisions to prioritize hospitals for personal protective equipment, testing, and surge staffing leaving long term care providers on the side lines, according to James McCracken, who is the active president and CEO of Leading Age, with over 6,000 facilities in New Jersey and Delaware.

He said the organization is prepared to face any future public health emergencies backed by the aid of New Jersey DOH funding.

But a medical worker who preferred to remain anonymous as they are currently still working at a medical facility said there is still a shortage of DME and PPE medical supplies.

Now the concern among medical officials is the viral impact of “higher than normal” flu cases with R.S.V and Covid-19. As reported by the New York Times, most cases of Covid-19, flu, and R.S.V can sicken millions of Americans, with medical experts sounding the alarm.

“Jersey City Medical Center is closely monitoring the evolving situation related to surging COVID, flu, and RSV cases. We have seen an uptick in Hudson County cases, and we remind community residents to be diligent in taking precautions to avoid infection,” said a spokesperson at Jersey City Medical Center.

“These include being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu; practicing frequent hand-washing; and staying home from school or work if you are unwell to minimize the transmission of a virus.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Jordan Coll can be reached at jcoll@hudsonreporter.com.

Jordan Coll, Staff Writer
Jordan Coll, Staff Writer
Jordan Coll, is a journalist who currently lives in Jersey City. He graduated with a degree in journalism at Florida International University and is pursuing his masters at Columbia University School of Journalism.
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