SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — As the winter coronavirus surge puts increasing pressure on California’s healthcare system, the state is now worried about a possible shortage of medical professionals.

“Listen, hospitals were a place that were understaffed and under pressure prior to this pandemic,” says UCSF Registered Nurse Sarah Egan. “It’s the nature of the industry.”

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For Nurse Egan, the winter surge is just the crescendo to an already exhausting year. Across the state, hospitals have had to stretch staff to the limit, and the staffing agencies that normally provide back-up help for California are now busy helping the rest of the country.

“You know, it’s like nothing that we’ve ever seen before,” Egan says. “So people are burnt out, and we’re afraid. We’ve been working short staffed for months now.”

“As the hospital bed count continues to dwindle, we simply will not be able to keep up if the Covid surge continues to increase,” Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Greg Adams warned Tuesday.

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Leadership from Kaiser, Sutter Health, and Dignity Health teamed up for an emergency briefing, saying they felt a collective responsibility to warn everyone about the seriousness of the situation. Sixteen of their 36 hospitals are now at ICU capacity. While they can find more beds, they are running out of people.

“Moreover it means that our nurses, our physicians, all of our staff who are already stretched and tired must extend themselves even more to care for more and more patients,” Adams explained.

That crunch is now generating some pushback, specifically from nurses upset with Governor Gavin Newsom’s move to change the state’s patient-to-nurse staffing ratio.

“They’ve had a year now, right, to plan for how we were going to address this,” Egan says. “Public health officials predicted how bad it was going to be at this time of the year, and their only answer now is to dump the excess onto nurses illegally, and they’re trying to get permission to do that. It’s happening at hospitals throughout the Bay Area, and I can’t express how frightening it is for me.”

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To meet demand in the coming weeks, California is trying to recruit additional medical staffing from Australia and Taiwan.