Nebraska hospital leaders share stories of overwhelming impact of COVID-19 spread on our hospitals

Nebraska hospitals compete for workers
Posted at 1:03 PM, Jan 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 06:43:43-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Nebraska has been in a Hospital Staffing Emergency since August, and there’s still many empty spaces at patient bedsides.

Hospital leaders across the state say healthcare workers are still hard to find, perhaps more than ever before because of omicron.

“They’re not immune to this disease," said Ed Hannon, President of CHI Health St. Francis in Grand Island "While many of the employees have said this is the 'Great Retirement' or they’ve moved on to different careers this year, they’re also getting sick.”

Hannon said of the 11,000 staff across CHI's 14 hospitals, 400 are currently out sick.

Those who stay and aren't sick right now are picking up extra shifts, sometimes several per week to balance nearly full hospitals and ICUs.

According to Dr. John Trapp, Vice President of Medical Affairs at Bryan Health in Lincoln, burnout and a temptation to find a better option in traveling are pulling some staff away.

"We have travelers currently on staff that are filling holes; they’re extremely talented staff," Trapp said. "On the other hand, our own nursing staff is getting recruited away to become travelers for salaries that we just simply can’t support.”

Recruiting nurses is difficult for hospitals across the state. Lori Mazanec, CEO of Box Butte General Hospital in Alliance, said it's all about who has the money.

“We're all competing for the same travel staff," Mazanec said. "It’s become a pricing war. Who’s going to pay the most, on whether you’re going to get a nurse or not? Sometimes location makes a difference or volume makes a difference. There's not enough availability out there to fill all the positions."

Hannon said even when they do get travel staff, they sometimes aren't there for long.

“The wages get so high, people can sometimes work for a few weeks, a few months, and then they take time off so that only compounds the matter more," Hannon said.

The lack of staffed beds is not only impacting hospitals on a local level, but across the Midwest and beyond.

“Local resources are being exhausted, and we’re calling between 40 and 60 hospitals to get a transfer for a single patient, so that’s very time-intensive," said Mazanec.

Jeremy Nordquist, President of the Nebraska Hospital Association, said the state is working on freeing up beds by sending patients who are no longer critical to nursing homes.

But they’re finding the same problem that plagues hospitals.

“We’re seeing a similar staffing crisis in our nursing homes across the state," Nordquist said. "So they’re not able to open the beds that we need, and it’s creating a bottleneck to place acute patients out of our hospitals.”

Nordquist said more on this plan will be announced soon.

"With case counts rising at a rapid pace over the past few weeks and hospitalizations continuing to remain at high levels, it’s important the public fully understands the serious nature of our current situation and the impacts of COVID-19 on our Nebraska hospitals," wrote Brian Noonan in a press release on behalf of the Nebraska Hospital Association.

In the meantime, four state senators are will be introducing bills to address some of the issues around hospital staffing:

Senator Mike McDonnell (District 5, Omaha) will be introducing the Front Line Nurse Premium Pay bill. This bill will ask the state to appropriate $50 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. It will allow for hospitals and federal qualified health centers to award premium pay bonuses to nurses who have been on the front lines during the pandemic.

Senator Myron Dorn (District 30, Gage County) will be introducing the Nebraska Nursing Incentive Act bill. This bill will ask the state to appropriate $5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. It will allow for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to administer scholarships to public or private postsecondary institutions for approved nursing programs.

Senator Patty Pansing-Brooks (District 28, Lincoln) will be introducing a bill that appropriates $5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to create new full-time positions that will oversee the seven Career and Technical Education Programs within the Nebraska Department of Education.

Senator Robert Hilkemann (District 4, Omaha) will be introducing the Care Team Innovation Grant bill. This bill will ask the state to appropriate $2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. It will allow DHHS to establish a competitive application process for grants for hospitals to explore new and innovative ways of health care delivery.

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