NM hospitals have worst shortages of staff in US - Albuquerque Journal

NM hospitals have worst shortages of staff in US

Seen here is University of New Mexico Hospital. More than half of the state’s hospitals report staffing shortages. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Nearly 53% of New Mexico hospitals reported critical staffing shortages, putting the state at the top of a national list, according to a new analysis of federal data.

New Mexico is the only state in which more than half of hospitals reported severe staffing shortages, Becker’s Hospital Review reported. Vermont is second on the list with 47%.

“Right now, yes, I would say we’re in a situation where we’re one of the most strained areas of the country,” said Troy Clark, president and CEO of the New Mexico Hospital Association.

Clark said Thursday he was not familiar with the Becker’s Hospital Review analysis, which is based on federal Health and Human Services data posted Tuesday, but finds it credible that New Mexico tops the list in the percentage of hospitals reporting critical staffing shortages.

Many New Mexico hospitals have lost staff for a variety of reasons, including retirements, stress and burnout, nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, Clark said.

The crush of COVID-19 patients, combined with those who require care that was put off earlier in the pandemic, means most hospitals are treating more inpatients than they are licensed to treat, Clark said.

“We’re pretty tight right now, pretty stressed,” he said.

Staff shortages also put a severe financial strain on hospitals that need to hire costly temporary workers to fill the gap. Hospitals have to hire personnel through agencies that charge up to $265 an hour to provide “travel nurses,” Clark said.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals typically paid $65 to $80 an hour for agency nurses, he said.

“Their costs are going through the roof,” Clark said. “It causes a financial sustainability problem for the hospitals. But we have these patients that need to be taken care of.”

A New Mexico Hospital Association survey of member hospitals in September found that nearly 30% of nursing positions in New Mexico were either vacant or filled by temporary workers. Clark said the problem likely has worsened since then.

Hospitals also have vacancies among other personnel, such as respiratory therapists and radiation technologists, he said.

There are hospitals with staffing shortages throughout the state.

In Farmington, two military medical teams made up of nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors have been sent to work at San Juan Regional Medical.

In the Albuquerque metro area, two major hospital systems have declared crisis standards of care – which gives physicians more flexibility to transfer patients and ultimately the ability to ration care. Officials with Presbyterian and University of New Mexico hospitals said during recent public appearances that they have each hired hundreds of traveling nurses to help care for patients.

Despite those efforts, Dr. Michael Richards, the executive vice president for clinical affairs at UNM Hospital, said long wait times have caused some patients to get frustrated and lash out at health care workers.

“This creates a really difficult patient experience, these long waits,” he said earlier this month. “We’re seeing more difficult and more frequent situations where patients or family members contribute to creating a difficult environment because of the frustrations and the long waits.”

Melanie Mozes, a Presbyterian spokeswoman, said the health system, like many across the country, is facing a staffing shortage.

“To address this shortage, Presbyterian continues to focus our efforts on retaining the excellent clinical team we have in place today and implementing strong recruitment efforts across the country,” she said in an email. “Presbyterian also partners with local educational institutions to strengthen our pipeline of talent for the future.”

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