National staffing crisis, pandemic resurgence have increased local impacts; health providers ask for understanding and patience as they make the best, difficult decisions to ensure excellent care
Lebanon, NH – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its current surge, with increasing cases across the region as well as around the nation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH) continues to adapt and adjust with new and renewed public safety efforts and messaging to meet the fierce new challenges presented by this unprecedented national health care crisis.
As COVID-19 cases – particularly among unvaccinated individuals – continue to increase across the region, D-HH re-instituted more restrictive visitor policies, and has established COVID-19 vaccination as a required condition of employment for all D-HH staff.
“We are, in many ways, returning to operational controls that served us well early in the pandemic,” noted D-HH Chief Clinical Officer Edward J. Merrens, MD. “We realize the impact that this is having on our patients, their families, and our staff, but we ask for everyone’s patience and understanding as we continue our work to be able to provide safe, high-quality care for all of our patients, as well as those who support and care for those patients as well.”
[See a video update on the issues impacting the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health System from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health Chief Clinical Officer Edward J. Merrens, MD, HERE]
A major national trend of acute shortages of staff, particularly in nursing, but also among other clinical specialties, and vital support staff such as food service and environmental workers, has been magnified by the pandemic as providers choose to leave the profession – a trend that is impacting D-HH as well. According to an April, 2021, study by healthcare jobs marketplace Vivian, four in 10 (43%) nurses are considering leaving their role in 2021 — a figure that is higher among ICU workers (48%). To address this critical shortage, in early August D-HH organized a “Managing and Staffing to Capacity” task force to remove barriers, streamline current processes, and identify creative and innovative solutions to this crisis, especially in the Inpatient Units, Perioperative and Procedural care areas at the system’s flagship hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon.
The system has also begun planning for reallocation of resources and staff to address the staffing shortages while maintaining its ability to provide critical patient services.
“The reasons for the shortages are multifactorial, and the overall situation continues to be challenging as clinical demand increases and the supply of traveling staff is depleted across the nation,” said Dartmouth-Hitchcock Vice President of Ambulatory Nursing Joni Menard, DNP, MS, RN, CENP, who is serving in the role of Task Force Leader. “Our staff have been extraordinary and they continue to provide the safe, high-quality care our patients need and expect, but the pandemic has taken a toll. Our task force is addressing these issues to support our teams so they can continue to focus on providing excellent care and also continue to grow and develop their careers in health care.”
Other steps taken by D-HH in response to the staffing situation involve ongoing efforts in recruitment and retention of qualified staff, including compensation adjustments. Earlier this year, D-HH increased the starting rate for newly licensed nurses to $30 per hour, made wage adjustments for experienced clinical nurses and nurse supervisors, and will provide a 2% wage increase for other staff beginning in October. Other such steps geared toward making D-HH an employer of choice are planned.
D-HH also continues its strong support and advocacy for simple preventative measures against COVID-19 including vaccination, masking, handwashing and social distancing.
“At the end of the day, we remain unwavering in our commitment to provide high-quality, safe care to our patients, and to remain as the trusted source of health care and health information,” noted Merrens. “These are unprecedented times, and I hope all will understand and be patient with the measures we’re taking in pursuit of that goal. Our patients and our community expect, and deserve, nothing less.”