UHA CEO, Greg Bell, says hospitals are “bursting at the seams” coupled with a workforce shortage

Greg Bell, president and CEO of the Utah Hospital Association (UHA), says Utah hospitals are currently experiencing a workforce shortage with 10% or more of hospital employees having left since the start of the pandemic. At the same time, COVID-19 hospitalizations from the Delta variant are quickly rising. Despite these challenges, Bell says hospitals are able to efficiently transfer patients to where resources are to ease the burden of the workforce shortages.  

 

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Bell says intensive care units (ICUs) are currently “bursting at the seams.” Those who have deferred due to the pandemic are being hospitalized because their conditions weren’t treated. ICUs are also experiencing their regular summer increase with care accidents and recreational accidents. 

Patients of the Delta variant are making capacity even more challenging. Bell says 18% of ICU beds are COVID patients, most of which are Delta variant cases. The variant is more transmissible and Bell says patients in Utah hospitals are sicker. 

Bell highlighted the recent reduction of the Utah hospital workforce. He says the exhaustion and burnout felt during the pandemic is real and is leading to health care professionals leaving the workforce. They are finding other jobs in the field, retiring, or leaving the field entirely. 

“Consequently, the number of beds we are able to staff is not about physical beds, it’s the number of beds you are able to staff.”

Bell says their main need is experienced nurses and technology disciples like radiology technicians. 

Newly graduated nurses are also in demand. Utah, being the state with the youngest average population, has many nursing graduates, but according to Bell, nurses are moving to other states due to better pay. 

“We tend to export talent.”

To assist rural hospital capacity challenges, large health systems like Intermountain Healthcare have internal transfer systems to get patients to larger hospitals with more and better resources. 

UHA worked with the largest health systems in Utah to create the Mobile Command Response team. This is where any rural hospital needing a transfer could call the command center which would place that patient into the appropriate space. This makes it easier for rural hospitals to find a transfer so they don’t have to call around to many different systems and certain systems don’t get overloaded. 

“A lot of rural hospitals don’t have an ICU…so as a COVID patient was identified that needed hospitalization beyond what an acute care ward could provide, they would transfer.”

UHA’s two main goals this year are to improve the mental health system in hospitals and to make a renewed commitment to the workforce and keeping experienced professionals in Utah hospitals.

“[We are] making a renewed and high-priority commitment to workforce. That means keeping and getting more professionals into our skilled positions, and including diversity, equity, and inclusion so that we draft from our own employees who are more diverse and have a good background who may be in lesser paid positions.”

UHA is starting a program to encourage clerks, housekeepers, and other lower paid employees to receive education to rise to a higher paid position in medical technology and nursing. 

“It’s a big deal. [During] my board retreat in 3 weeks, this will be the only thing we talk about for two days. We assembled experts from around the country and locally and partnered with our higher education commissioners to address this medical workforce challenge.”