In New Mexico hospitals, lack of staffing looms in budget decisions - Albuquerque Journal

In New Mexico hospitals, lack of staffing looms in budget decisions

The Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services hospital in Gallup. (Courtesy of Rehoboth McKinley)

Health care vacancies, especially at New Mexico hospitals, are plentiful and that is a top concern.

“We are in a very dire situation,” said Troy Clark, executive director of the New Mexico Hospital Association.

In speaking with the state’s hospital leaders, Clark said,”staffing is their No. 1 concern.” While COVID-19 used to fill some hospital ICUs beyond capacity, now the pandemic is exacerbating staff shortages because workers testing positive are out sick or contagious.

Moreover, given New Mexico’s chronic nursing shortage, hospitals had to pay contract agency nurses, or travelers, who commanded premium rates higher than nurse employees, to fill vacancies.

But hospitals are running out of savings to continue that practice, he said. One New Mexico hospital,

announced earlier ths month it was temporarily closing its obstetric unit for labor and deliveries because there aren’t enough doctors or nurses for the unit.

That means patients and their families must drive to Grants, Farmington or Albuquerque for such care. And it doesn’t bode well for other smaller rural hospitals in the state, which may have to send patients to hospitals in bigger cities for some specialty care, Clark said.

“So even though they may have the technical ability to take care of you, they may not have the staff to take care of you,” Clark said. “Now what’s going to happen, is for things that you normally would not need to be transferred for, you’ll need to be and that puts more stress on the larger hospitals.”

Across the country, medical staff shortages are spurring hospitals to “make decisions about the closure of services that they lose money on,” he said.

That hasn’t happened here, except for Rehoboth.

But there is some good news. Hospitals are starting to see an uptick in applications, and some nurses are deciding to come back from retirement or give up the life of a traveling nurse working outside the state.

“We now have probably a more difficult time finding radiology technicians and respiratory therapists than we do nurses,” Clark said. The shortage is “pretty much every position in the hospital.”

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