Staffing shortages impacting hospital bed availability

Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 6:40 PM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Healthcare facilities across the country are seeing massive staffing shortages, including here in Fargo, and it’s taking a toll on the number of available beds for patients in need.

Capacity issues aren’t new for healthcare workers as hospitals have been battling it for three years. However, an influx of covid patients isn’t to blame for that problem anymore. Now, many hospitals have empty beds, but not the people to care for someone in them. Sanford Health says it has 1,500 total openings across its Fargo locations, and more than 400 of those openings are for nurses.

“It’s a real challenge to find enough people to take care of patients 24/7,” Dr. Steve Briggs, Vice President Medical Officer at Fargo’s Sanford Health said.

Dr. Briggs says during seven of the past 13 days, low staffing numbers rendered Sanford unable to accept patients from other hospitals unless those patients were suffering from a heart attack, stroke or serious trauma.

“Nobody wants to turn anybody away, but you do have to close those beds even though they’re physically unoccupied. That’s different than saying there’s no ICU beds available,” Briggs said.

As of Friday, Briggs said Sanford had 480 patients and capacity-wise was doing fine. However, he pointed out that status can change quickly as he says staffing shortages in other parts of state can influence bed space in Fargo.

“We spent a great deal of time over the holidays in an overflow setting. At one point, half of our ER beds were basically inpatient beds filled up with patients that other areas of the region weren’t able to take care of because they didn’t have those specialties or the human resources to take care of those patients,” Briggs said.

Dr. Briggs says Sanford often gets inquiries from Minneapolis hospitals, even hospitals in Nebraska, for empty beds to send one of their patients to. However, Briggs assures Sanford prioritizes being a safety net for patients in the Valley versus other states.

“It is a hard conversation to have sometimes. Can we safely take care of that patient or not?” he said.

While Sanford is working hard to recruit more nurses, techs and other staff, Briggs says healthcare is a ‘different world’ now as many are opting to do travel work.

“It’s very difficult to maintain long-term staffing when your labor pool is short-term workers,” Briggs said. “That’s been a huge challenge of trying to figure out what is it that keeps people wanting to work here?”

He says while hospitals everywhere will continue to work on trying to accommodate the needs of the new generation of healthcare workers, rebuilding the workforce isn’t going to happen overnight. He says that unfortunately means capacity issues are likely here for the long-haul, too.