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Hospitals across the region grapple with staffing shortage

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 5:29 PM EDT
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WINDSOR, Vt. (WCAX) - Hospitals across our region are facing a crisis. From UVM Medical Center to Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the pandemic has exacerbated the long-running problem of staffing shortages, and that’s leading to long wait times for many patients.

The Mt. Ascutney Hospital in Windsor has positions open in pretty much every department. “We are hiring,” said Dr. Joseph Perras, the hospital’s CEO. “Radiology tech, respiratory therapists, lab techs, phlebotomists, nursing as always, flow staff in our clinic.” And the list goes on.

Up Interstate I-89, the area’s largest medical center, Dartmouth-Hitchcock, is facing a similar workforce shortage which is forcing some procedures to be postponed. Dr. Ed. Merrens, DHMC’s chief clinic officer released an online video this week urging the community to be patient. “We know and completely understand how frustrating this is for you, and honestly, for our staff. This is a challenge like we have never faced,” he said.

To the south, the Brattleboro Retreat is having trouble staffing beds for acute psychiatric patients. In a statement, a spokesperson wrote:

“The Retreat faces the additional challenge of specializing in psychiatry and addiction, which is a niche area in medicine. We also serve a geographically complex region that requires us to compete with nearby Massachusetts and New Hampshire for top healthcare talent.”

The UVM Medical Center also faces hiring challenges. It’s a nationwide problem that has been exacerbated during the last 18 months as even more health care workers left the field.

“The fact that we are understaffed, the fact that we have more volume that we are treating, and the fact that we are now back in the vaccine business and the testing businesses -- it’s just a lot going on for hospitals and they are stretched about as thin as they can be,” said Jeff Tieman, president of the Vermont Association of Hospitals. He says the shortage leads to several unwanted issues. “Like crowded emergency rooms when patients can’t easily move to the right kind of bed. It also leads to high costs.”

Officials say it’s too soon to tell whether those costs will be passed down to those seeking care. That will depend on how fast the situation can turn around. Hospitals are getting creative to get new employees in the doors. “It’s advertisements in the paper and the radio, it’s social media. It’s making changes to compensation and benefits, retention bonuses for folks,” Dr. Perras said.

He says his hospital has one big factor going for it in the recruitment game -- its reputation for being a good employer. Which makes it easier to spread the word about the jobs that are available.

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