During the COVID pandemic, nurses and healthcare workers alike were praised for the heroism and dedication. However, the healthcare industry is one of many industries facing issues with recruitment. In Montana, those issues are exacerbated by the housing crisis and limited applicant pools.
According to a nationwide study by the University of St. Augustine, Montana has just under 11 registered nurses per 1,000 residents.
Stephanie Whitaker, a former Benefis employee in the memory care unit, describes the staffing situation as the worst she's seen throughout her employment as a CNA.
"It can take up to 20 to 45 minutes to answer somebody’s call because you get to somebody’s room and they are like 'I may never see another CNA tonight so I need you to do this this and this." She acknowledges the larger issues facing the industry along with the ongoing housing crisis limiting applicants.
Some Benefis nurses fear shortages will only lead to a decline in the quality of care for residents and patients.
A nurse currently working in the memory care unit, who requests to remain anonymous, said, "I myself and my coworkers, we’re doing the absolute best we can to take care of everyone but there is only so much we can do."
Whitaker explains some of the issues she experienced, "Way more falls, way more people going septic, way more UTIs. Making sure people have water when you have 16 residents who just want to go to bed between 6 and 7 o'clock it's just not possible."
She understands the issue is not all on Benefis, as the applicant pool is much smaller than a larger city such as Denver or Seattle. However, she emphasizes there is fear that the issues and nurse-patient ratios will only worsen if measures aren't taken.
The anonymous nurse does express frustration with higher management as she feels there is not enough recruitment, "Anything that could be used to entice people either to work their or pick up shifts, everything they should be doing they are doing the opposite. For example, they re taking away triple pay to encourage people to pick up extra shifts."
Overall, the nurses want residents to understand the strain they are under and how it contributes to their ability to provide the highest quality of care. Whitaker says, "The culture is just so burnt out at Benefis. It isn't leading to good things for the. good things for the residents and patients."
Benefis statement regarding staffing issues:
"The ongoing recruitment and retention of employees to care for our patients remains a top priority at Benefis. While recruitment challenges have been a nationwide issue across a number of industries in the past year, we have continued to hire hundreds of new employees throughout 2022 and remain committed to building relationships with area educational institutions to strengthen our future pipeline of employees.
We have maintained nursing vacancy and turnover rates that are better than the national average throughout the past year. We also work to leverage clinical support roles ranging from certified nursing assistants to surgical technicians to bolster our registered nursing staffing across the organization, allowing us to use our resources as effectively and efficiently as possible. We are grateful to all of our current employees who have risen to this year’s challenges, working additional shifts and taking on incremental workloads to deliver high quality patient care each and every day."
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