New Mexico hospitals suffer worst staff shortage in US

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

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Almost 53% of New Mexico hospitals have reported critical staff shortages, placing 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 have reported serious staff 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 in the country,” said Troy Clark, president and CEO of the New Mexico Hospital Association.

Clark said Thursday he was unfamiliar with Becker’s Hospital Review’s analysis, which is based on federal health and human services data released Tuesday, but finds it credible that New Mexico tops the list. list of percentage of hospitals reporting critical staff shortages.

Many New Mexico hospitals have lost staff for a variety of reasons, including retirement, stress and burnout, almost two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clark said.

The crushing of COVID-19 patients, combined with those in need of care that was postponed earlier in the pandemic, means most hospitals are treating more inpatients than they are allowed to treat, Clark said. .

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

Staff shortages are also placing severe financial constraints on hospitals, which must hire expensive temporary workers to fill the void. Hospitals must hire staff through agencies that charge up to $ 265 an hour to provide “travel nurses,” Clark said.

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

“Their costs are skyrocketing,” Clark said. “This poses a problem of financial sustainability for hospitals. But we have these patients who need to be taken care of.

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

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

There are hospitals with staff shortages statewide.

In Farmington, two military medical teams of nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors were dispatched to work at San Juan Regional Medical.

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

Despite these efforts, Dr Michael Richards, executive vice president of clinical affairs at the UNM hospital, said the long wait times have left some patients frustrated and lashed out at healthcare workers. health.

“It creates a really difficult patient experience, these long waits,” he said earlier this month. “We are seeing more difficult and frequent situations where patients or family members help create a difficult environment due to frustrations and long waits.

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

“To address this shortage, Presbyterian continues to focus its efforts on sustaining the excellent clinical team we have in place today and implementing strong recruitment efforts across the country,” he said. – she stated in an email. “Presbyterian is also partnering with local educational institutions to strengthen our talent pool for the future. “

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