With the number of COVID-19 cases in Douglas County on the rise, Alomere Health officials say staffing is and continues to be an issue.
“We are definitely feeling the pressure of staffing,” said Carl Vaagenes, Alomere Health CEO. “There are certain shifts that are harder to fill than others. And it is becoming more and more of a challenge.”
Vaagenes said the hospital recently opened up another unit for COVID patients, which means the potential for hiring more staff. But that in itself can prove difficult because so many hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities are in the same position.
Douglas County's cumulative total of cases totals 1,833, according to Nov. 18 data. That's nearly twice as many cases as the 859 the county had at the beginning of the month and a jump of 499 cases in the last week. The county's death toll stands at 21 and its active cases are at 502, according to Horizon Public Health.
Celeste Gardner, director of human resources at Alomere, said early on the hospital could call on others health care providers to help with staffing issues, but because everyone is in the same boat, there isn’t enough staff to share.
“We will hopefully be able to hire more staff and are looking to hire part-time nurses,” Gardner said.
She said the hospital has been in contact with regional employment service agencies, but that everyone in the health care industry are all fighting for the same type of staff members.
One option the hospital is looking at, according to Gardner and Vaagenes, is redeploying or redistributing staff in different areas or shifts.
Obviously, providing care to all patients in a safe environment is the number one priority, they both said. But they said using support staff to help manage workflow or putting aside non-critical work could be helpful. In addition, those in management positions who can help with direct patient care are being asked to do so. Many are wearing dual hats – managing their employees but also helping with patient care, Gardner said.
“Getting creative is the key,” she said.
Vaagenes said another avenue the hospital has had to go down again is cutting back on elective surgeries. In fact, a week and a half ago, the hospital ended up making the decision to cut all elective surgeries so that they could deploy those staff members in other critical areas.
“It was a hard decision to make, but one that needed to be done,” he said, nothing that there were 600-700 patients who were expecting to have surgery but weren’t able to at that time. “We need to take care of our critical care patients.”
He said it was a short-term fix and that elective surgeries are now being limited to just a couple days per week and that they are being evaluated daily. Based upon the need of critical care patients, that could change and elective surgeries may once again be canceled.
Gardner said that if there are people out there who are looking for a job in the health care industry, the hospital has a very full job board and there are plenty of job opportunities – both with patient care and non-patient care.
Another option the hospital is exploring is looking at retired nurses. Once a vaccine is ready, Gardner said Alomere could call on retired nurses to help with vaccination efforts.
When asked what the public can do to help, Gardner and Vaagenes stressed the importance of community members to wear their masks, social distance, not gather in large groups and to simply, “do the right thing.”
Eddie Reif, director of community relations, said for those who hear the message, they are already doing the right thing. However, he said for too many, the message seems to fall on deaf ears.
He said there really is no new way of saying it, but stressed the same items already said by Gardner and Vaagenes – wear a mask, keep your bubble small, wash hands and keep being vigilant.
Reif said it is a “sneaky little virus” in the way that it impacts some more severely than others and that if it were Ebola, people would probably listen and heed the advice of healthcare workers. .
Vaagenes said it is getting to a critical point because not only are there staffing issues, but when patients are needing to be transferred, they are being turned away due to capacity issues.
“This is serious,” he stressed.
Again, all three hospital officials pleaded for the public to heed the advice of those in the healthcare field. And Gardner concluded by once again saying the hospital’s job board is full.