health picture | | Santa Fe Reporter

Hospitals in New Mexico continue to face labor issues exacerbated by the strains the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on the healthcare industry.

This week, lawmakers will hear about those hospital workforce challenges at Health and Human Services Committee meetings Sept. 14-16 in Gallup. A presentation from the New Mexico Hospital Association scheduled for the first afternoon outlines some of those challenges, including hospitals that remain busy with sicker patients who have delayed care during the pandemic, as well as the competition between hospitals in New Mexico and the United States for staff.

According to the report, New Mexico hospitals employ more than 8,000 staff nurses, 50% of the state’s physicians and 758 primary care providers, but all continue to face labor shortages.

Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center human resources director Sandra Dominguez told SFR that the hospital has a higher vacancy rate than before the pandemic. “As with any employer,” says Dominguez. “Right now, everyone is struggling to find qualified staff.”

While the latest employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released earlier this month showed an increase of 48,000 health care jobs in August, overall employment in the nationwide healthcare sector remained below its February 2020 level by 0.2%.

The pre-pandemic nursing shortage remains a critical area of ​​focus. Last month, New Mexico began distributing $15 million to New Mexico institutions of higher education to expand nursing programs, with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announcing the distribution of funds as one of the many steps taken to address ongoing nursing shortages.

Christus President and CEO Lillian Montoya said the hospital was facing an unemployment trend that she called a “big upgrade” from the so-called “big quit,” in which people use this time to consider changing jobs and locations. And for people who decide to give Santa Fe a try, they encounter the city’s ongoing challenges with affordable housing and child care. Montoya says one of the hospital’s “biggest challenges” is meeting the needs of a young workforce:

“You have more young people working in the hospital, they come into the community or want to stay in the community. And if they don’t have a partner in their age bracket, or a home, they’re not as likely to stay,” she says.

To that end, the hospital sponsors events such as Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta and Music on the Hill.

“It’s really selfish, because I want to get my people to meet people so they stay,” Montoya says.

Dominguez and Christus’ chief nursing officer, Monica Leyba, say that while the nursing shortage predates the pandemic, several new factors continue to reverberate. One was the increased need for traveling nurses to fill staffing shortages.

Before the pandemic, says Leyba, “almost all of our positions were filled with our own core team,” with maybe 20 traveling nurses. Now they have over 100, she said. Experienced nurses chose to travel in some cases, she said, because they received higher salaries doing so.

“We’re trying to get traveler fares down to achieve some kind of stability from a financial perspective,” she says, “as well as at the bedside, just clinical nurse stability.”

In some cases, nurses have moved out of state to be closer to family for help with child care, she said. A “large number” of nurses have decided to retire. And many of their new nurses who just graduated, completed their education during the pandemic, and are onboarded with no clinical experience.

“So now we kind of have to catch up and help them transition into taking care of [patients] because their training was just a little bit different,” says Leyba.

To address hiring shortages and provide staff support given the high level of trauma experienced by healthcare workers as a result of the pandemic, Christus has held job fairs, Dominguez says, at which they try to do same day deals when possible. At a recent event, about 100 people attended and the hospital was able to hire 35 people. For non-clinical and some administrative roles, the hospital has created remote options to provide flexibility for employees. The hospital also offers assistance programs for healthcare workers who are still dealing with the emotional and psychological impacts of the pandemic.

“For our frontline staff, the pandemic has certainly taken its toll on our nurses and doctors,” says Dominguez. “Our spiritual care team is a very dynamic front-line team that works with our caregivers and listens to their concerns.”

Officials at the University of New Mexico Hospital and Presbyterian Health Services say they also face comparable issues.

Sara Frasch, director of human resources at the University of New Mexico hospital, told SFR via email that her vacancy rate is “higher than ever, and it’s about double what it was before the pandemic”, with nurses, case managers, behavioral health technicians, patient care technicians, drivers, night staff and IT staff are some of our most difficult positions to fill. .

To address shortages, UNM has also held virtual hiring events and has also “increased our orientation class sizes and expanded our recruitment announcement services. We have also resumed hiring events face-to-face that our unit heads attend to speak with candidates in real time,” says Frasch.

As at Christus, Frasch writes that the pandemic has changed both “the work environment and our workforce” at UNM. “Our loyal team members are looking for more flexibility and support than ever. The pandemic has opened up more opportunities for nurses to carry out short-term assignments while traveling and to gain new experiences. This affected our workforce, both in numbers and morale, because when those team members quit to travel, it made us more dependent on temporary workers. Temporary workers allow us to continue to provide excellent care to New Mexicans, but they are not core employees who have developed the strong relationships that are part of our culture.

At Presbyterian, Janna Christopher, Director of Clinical Recruitment, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, says their facilities are seeing “increased employment opportunities and fewer clinical applicants this year compared to previous years. We’ve also seen this trend in healthcare organizations across the country. The supply and demand for clinicians in the state “has always been a challenge,” writes Christopher, and Presbyterian also “had difficulty attracting new talent to New Mexico before and after the pandemic,” including nurses. , physiotherapists, respiratory therapists, radiology technicians. , paramedics and paramedics.

Presbyterian has “focused on various strategies to increase our applicant pools, including expanding our social media presence. We also focus on recruiting through virtual and in-person career fairs and offer a range of employee referral bonuses for clinical positions,” writes Christopher, in addition to offering residencies and fellowships. of nurses.

“For healthcare workers across the country, as well as for Presbyterian, the pandemic has been incredibly difficult,” says Christopher. “They had to navigate through uncertainty, ever-changing guidelines and treatments, and more. Many employees say it was the strength of their team that got them through these tough times. Additionally, staff who are not based in a clinical setting have adapted to working remotely. As we begin to move away from some of the most difficult times of the pandemic, we are working to help employees recover and thrive.

The New Mexico Hospital Association presentation scheduled for Sept. 14 outlines several legislative proposals to address labor shortages, including creating licensure reciprocity for veterans with medical experience; make licensing more efficient; funding for a respiratory therapist pilot project; funding work-study programs in nursing; the establishment of a state trust fund for hospitals and health care; and make permanent state funding for nursing programs.

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