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Iowa's largest hospital struggles with understaffing, burnout

University of Iowa Health Care doesn't have enough workers, and the shortage is affecting patients.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa's largest hospital is struggling with staff burnout as the daily workload for doctors and nurses climbs.

University of Iowa Health Care doesn't have enough workers, and the shortage is affecting patients. Staff are having to pick up extra shifts and the hospital system is looking to hire hundreds, not only in nursing, but also in food service, housekeeping, maintenance and nursing assistance.

"So I think this is what we call the pandemic effect," said UI Hospitals and Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran.

While UI's hiring has been the same as a normal year, the number of people leaving the health care field has been higher due to "exhaustion, the opportunity to do something different, or just needing to take a break," Gunasekaran said.

"We are paying a pretty high price in terms of the mental health of our workforce, in terms of the physical workload that they see day in and day out, and the continued thought that the pandemic isn't going to calm down any time soon," he added.

As of Monday, 100% of the patients in ICU beds were unvaccinated. However, the overall number of COVID patients in the hospital right now is "not overwhelming" compared to other points in the pandemic.

"Today what's really challenging is that we are just as full for non-COVID care as we were before the pandemic, but we now have this additional work of the pandemic and the COVID-positive patients," Gunasekaran said.

UI's Stead Family Children's Hospital is at 85% capacity, which Gunasekaran said is "substantially higher" than normal. Some kids are coming in with COVID-19, but other respiratory illnesses including RSV and croup are also contributing to the high patient volume.

Statewide, hospitalizations reached 638 on Wednesday, the highest number since January.

RELATED: State reports 81 more COVID deaths, 8.98% positivity rate the past week

RELATED: Dr. Caitlin Pedati leaving IDPH in October

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