Staffing is a big factor in the lack of available hospital beds in Colorado


DENVER (KDVR) — Health officials say Colorado hospitals are in the worst situation they have been in since the beginning of the pandemic. There are fewer ICU beds available now than there were during the peak of hospitalizations last December, and some of that stems from staffing issues.

“It’s significantly worse than where we were last fall. We feel that we are in jeopardy of being overwhelmed as a healthcare system,” said Cara Welch with the Colorado Hospital Association.

Welch said there are several factors at play. The number of COVID hospitalizations is high, although not as high as last December. There is an early respiratory virus season, there are traumas coming in, and some people who put off getting care last year are very sick now and coming to the hospital.

The other big issue is staffing.

“We’ve seen nationally that one in five health care workers have chosen to leave the healthcare industry during the pandemic because of burnout, stress, difficult working conditions, and that’s the case here in Colorado as well. I don’t have the specific numbers, but we certainly know we are seeing some of our workforce leaving,” Welch said.

That’s significant because staffing affects capacity. “We can have a hospital bed and all the resources but if we don’t have the nurse or the provider there needed to provide care then we can’t put a patient in it,”  Welch said.

The numbers paint quite a picture. “On (Friday) the 5th, we had 8700 total acute care beds. If I go back even to mid-August we were at 9300, almost 9400, so a decline of 700 acute care beds over that time,” Welch said.

She said the hospitals that can afford it are offering bonuses or higher pay and they are hiring traveling nurses.

The state is reactivating the Staffing Fusion Center to help provide staff, and there are talks with FEMA.

Workers are doing all they can, but there could be impacts on care.

“You might have to wait a little bit in an emergency department. You might have to wait a couple of days if your procedure gets rescheduled. You might have to drive to a different location,” Welch said.

Governor Jared Polis has taken several actions hoping to alleviate the strain on hospitals. For example, an executive order allows patients to be transferred to other facilities.

Plus, some hospitals are postponing non-urgent procedures.

But Welch wants to make sure that anyone in need of care does go out and get it.

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