Like many hospitals across the country, Yankton’s Avera Sacred Heart Hospital (ASHH) is facing another whirlwind, with an increasing patient load as well as staffing issues combining to generate even more stress on everyone.
A story in Friday’s Press & Dakotan examined the pressures faced at ASHH in the face of a new COVID-19 surge. It’s an unfortunately familiar tale both here and elsewhere.
But it’s also a problem that cannot be viewed solely through a pandemic lens, although COVID is certainly an important factor.
The hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) often nears or reaches capacity, but patients with other, non-COVID issues also need ICU attention at times, and that combines to create a critical mass that impacts the staff.
“Most of the communities think COVID has passed by. You see very few masks and not much of a discussion (about) this resumption of activities as normal,” said Doug Ekeren, ASHH’s regional president and CEO. “For our staff, who is taking care of COVID patients every day, they are tired.”
Ekeren pointed to a national shortage of health care workers that is also plaguing the hospital. He said this isn’t primarily due to workers resisting COVID vaccination mandates. The Avera system has such a policy, and while that has peeled away a few workers, Ekeren said, he noted that a “very strong majority” of workers thought a mandate was “the right thing … to do.” The health industry is facing the same hiring issues that have been impacting other industries and professions for several years: the lack of prospects for open positions, especially among highly skilled slots.
Thus, the pandemic with its many waves, the other medical issues with which hospitals must contend and the tight hiring market are putting intense pressure on medical facilities.
Ekeren said, “There are times where we might have to say ‘no’ to a potential admission and help that person find admission to another facility. We’ve had a few times where we have had to delay some elective surgical procedures that might take a bed.”
Further compounding the issue, Ekeren said, is that the COVID patients they see now who do end up in the ICU usually stay there longer. Because of that, he said, “we’ve had time periods where we did not have an ICU bed available in Yankton and there were not ICU beds available in Sioux Falls or Sioux City, Omaha or Lincoln.”
So, while this current COVID surge may not seem as bad as last fall, for instance, there is still a cumulative effect that is creating hardships.
We once again are indebted to the medical staff at ASHH and other facilities who must deal with this stress and uncertainty, all because they need to be there for us.
As Ekeren said, we should be thankful for the sacrifices and long hours these workers put in.
It remains a difficult job, and we would be much, much worse off without them.