Oklahoma health officials said Thursday while state- and hospital-reported capacity numbers are not matching up, they are aware of the strain on health care facilities because of an influx of COVID-19 patients.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said the issue is the state health department and hospitals give point-in-time counts at different times, and data comes second to patient care, so it may not always be exact. Frye said the health department is working with hospitals to close reporting gaps.
"Regardless of the discrepancy in reported numbers, we know the reality that our hospitals, doctors and clinicians are experiencing on the ground is incredibly difficult. That being said, the problem is preventable. Ultimately, we know that the best way to combat and overcome these challenges is for every Oklahoman to get the COVID-19 vaccine," Frye said.
According to the state health department, unvaccinated Oklahomans account for 94% of hospitalizations and 96% of deaths the past 30 days, as well as 98% of cases so far in September.
While hospitals consistently cite a lack of staffing as a problem, state health officials have abandoned plans for a statewide contract to bring in more health care workers. Deputy State Health Commissioner Keith Reed said it no longer made sense.
"What we looked at in trying to find something that would have been at the scale that would have really made an impact within the state was not really feasible for a number of reasons, not the least of which is trying to get the actual number we would need statewide. Because in doing so, we actually create a bit of competition with the hospitals we are trying to serve as well, because they are also working direct," Reed said.
Reed said the state health department has tried to help hospitals access resources like federal reimbursements to help offset the costs of contract labor. Some hospital executives have reported paying $165 an hour for nurses.
Oklahoma Hospital Association President Patti Davis said state medical boards have allowed hospitals to use students and recently retired doctors to bolster their staffs.
"The thing that would be very helpful is if we had the same flexibility with the board of nursing to use students like we did before and retirees," Davis said.
Frye believes what Davis is asking for can be done without a drawn-out rulemaking process.