AdventHealth officials report hospital staff shortage to Florida legislature


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On Monday, hospital administrators gave House committees an overview of the challenges facing healthcare professionals, outlining efforts to reimagine the way care is delivered amid a shortage of nurses and d ‘a major financial blow from the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the forefront of concerns is the shortage of nurses, whose leaders have told lawmakers it has created an emergency for hospital administrators.

Neil Finkler, clinical director of AdventHealth Orlando, told the House Health & Human Services Committee that nursing staffing was a challenge before the pandemic. But COVID-19 has intensified the urgency to address the shortage, Finkler said.

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“A lot of nurses have given up nursing altogether. They left the bedside or became traveling nurses because they were earning over $ 10,000 a week to travel and become nurses in hot spots (COVID-19) across the country, ”Finkler said.

Finkler said 79 percent of AdventHealth nursing jobs are currently filled by nursing agency staff.

In an effort to alleviate the problem, AdventHealth has implemented strategies known as “extended care”, in which nurses take on additional patients and increase the patient-to-nurse ratio, and “team care.” , which involves a more collaborative approach.

“This is truly one of the great existential threats to our ability to continue to provide health care. It is not sustainable. This limits consistency. This limits our ability to mentor. It limits team building and limits a lot of the things we have done to improve the quality of care we provide, ”he said.

The challenge of losing nurses who leave to take up itinerant nursing positions elsewhere must be met, said John Couris, president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital.

“When these nurses go on a trip – and I don’t blame them for that, they have student loans to pay off, they have bills to pay, and they see it as an opportunity to take care of student bills and loans. – when they travel, it puts enormous pressure on our ability to take care of people, ”Couris told the House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee. “In my opinion, this has to stop. We need help. It must be regulated in a state of emergency.

Couris said hospitals are being forced to adapt because COVID-19 is not expected to go away anytime soon.

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“Our approach and strategy has focused on this notion and idea of ​​a new normal. This is how you coexist with COVID-19? COVID-19 is rampant. It will be with us much like the flu is with us, ”said Couris.

Tom VanOsdol, president and CEO of Ascension Florida, which includes hospitals in Pensacola and Jacksonville, painted a grim picture of the harsh realities nurses and other medical and administrative staff face amid the pandemic. According to state health officials, 51,240 Floridians have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began last year.

“Our caregivers are exhausted. They are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually tired, ”VanOsdol told the House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee Monday afternoon.

The staffing challenges extend beyond nursing, VanOsdol said. He said he had to take on other roles with other hospital leaders in an effort to keep operations running smoothly.

“When we were understaffed in housekeeping, due to the difficulty of hiring workers and time off due to the community’s exposure to COVID, I was one of eight members of our management team. who donned scrubs and filled, stripped beds, cleaned rooms, took out sheets and trash, cleaned bathrooms, whatever needed to be done, ”VanOsdol said.

Critical staff shortages are compounded by financial pressure on hospitals, caused in part by the suspension of elective surgeries, executives said.

Ascension Florida has lost more than $ 50 million in net operating income over the past 18 months, even after receiving federal aid for the coronavirus pandemic, VanOsdol said.

VanOsdol also told lawmakers that hiring itinerant nurses to come to Florida from other states has become problematic, due to a “cumbersome” license application process.

Rep. Tracie Davis, a Democrat from Jacksonville who sits on the House Health & Human Services Committee, asked administrators what lawmakers can do to help overcome the various obstacles hospitals face.

“I would say that the collaboration between policy makers and healthcare professionals is really crucial in terms of our ability to make sure we have the right workforce to move forward. We need more students. We need more teachers. We need more seats, ”replied Finkler.

Finkler also said a lot of nurses’ time has been focused on paperwork, which puts them in front of a computer rather than at the bedside.

“The sad reality today is that 40 percent of a nurse’s time is spent on documentation,” he said. “I would like to ask us collectively to start looking at things like: what do nurses need to document? ”

Ascension Florida is one of the hospital systems that has decided to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees. Representative Dana Trabulsy, R-Fort Pierce, asked VanOsdol how the requirement, which goes into effect in November for Ascension staff, could affect the current shortage of nurses in the hospital system, suggesting some nurses could resign due to the requirement.

“With your tenure of November 12, are you prepared to face a nursing shortage, at a turnover rate of 40% that day? Trabulsy asked.

“We will do everything we can to mitigate this, answer questions, provide support, debunk myths, provide the facts, data and science and encourage people to make the decision to get vaccinated,” VanOsdol said.

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