St. Peter's Health and Shodair are facing 'critical staffing shortages'

Posted at 9:28 AM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 11:28:58-05

HELENA — St. Peter’s Health and Shodair Children’s Hospital say they’re experiencing critical staffing shortages which, along with the rise of Omicron cases, are affecting the operation capacity for both organizations.

The two hospitals say patients should be prepared for the possibility of longer wait times for some services, postponed procedures, and limited availability of inpatient beds.

“We are currently operating under contingency standards of care,” said St. Peter’s Health Regional Medical Center President and Chief Medical Officer Shelly Harkins, M.D. “Right now, we do not have the available staffing to meet the demand for inpatient beds, which is growing as we are starting to see an increase in hospitalizations due to the current COVID-19 omicron surge. This means many patients will have longer wait times in the ER, as we may have to discharge one patient before another can be admitted. Our ability to transfer patients to another facility is also limited because other hospitals in our region and across the country are unfortunately experiencing the same thing.”

Shodair reports facing similar staffing and operational challenges.

“We have a waitlist for young people needing immediate inpatient psychiatric care as staffing challenges and positive COVID-19 cases remains a challenge. We do have availability for appointments in our outpatient clinics,” Shodair CEO Craig Aasved said.

Even though staffing shortages are system-wide, St. Peter’s is shifting more resources to the Emergency Department to help triage and treat patients who may not necessarily need to be admitted to the hospital. Shodair has also shifted some of its providers to outpatient care to increase that patient load and support the needs in the community.

St. Peter’s says before the pandemic their turnover rate was around 4%, but has continued to trend upward and is now close to 15%. Together, St. Peter’s and Shodair employ over 2,000 community members and combined have over 330 open jobs to fill.

“Health care workers at St. Peter’s and around the country are taking an early retirement, leaving the industry entirely because of burnout and moral injury, or pursuing more lucrative travel positions because the demand for workers is at an unprecedented high,” said St. Peter’s Health Chief People and Communications Officer Andrea Groom. “The Omicron surge is exacerbating these increasing staffing shortages, as we currently have a record number of staff call offs due to COVID-19 diagnosis or quarantine.”

St. Peter's and Shodair say they are aggressively ramping up recruitment and retention efforts to compete for talent in a limited workforce.

The hospitals encourage community members to continue taking measures to stay safe and healthy, including seeking preventative health care. Community members are encouraged to see their primary care provider or visit an urgent care facility first, and only using the emergency room for severe conditions and life-threatening emergencies, which include behavioral health crises. Both facilities still require masking for all employees and visitors to help ensure safety.