Lincoln hospitals dealing with nursing shortage

August 5, 2018

Nursing shortages are nothing new, both nationally and in Nebraska, but they seem to have intensified in Lincoln.

Within the past couple of weeks, CHI St. Elizabeth was forced to transfer patients to CHI hospitals in Omaha because it did not have enough nurses working to meet minimum staffing requirements.

St. Elizabeth officials confirmed that patients were transferred but declined to say how many or offer any other specifics.

In a statement, Derek Vance, president of St. Elizabeth and CHI Nebraska Heart, blamed the need to transfer patients at least partially on a busier-than-normal patient load.

“Summers are usually the slow season for emergency departments in Lincoln. Not this year,” Vance said in an emailed statement. “St. Elizabeth has been extremely busy with all kinds of health care needs, from broken bones, to sniffles and burns.”

St. Elizabeth was put on probation for six months earlier this year as part of a settlement with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services after a patient died in November from injuries suffered after falling out of bed.

The HHS investigation revealed that nurses were working in areas they didn’t usually work in and also weren’t adequately trained in the use of beds for patients at high risk of falling.

Vance said transferring patients because of staff shortages is not an “everyday occurrence, but when the need arises, help is right around the corner.”

“When our capacity is met, we reach out to all of the resources available to us — this includes our sister hospitals in the Omaha area,” he said.

Vance pointed out that nursing shortages are not unique to St. Elizabeth.

“There is a nursing shortage in our community,” he said in his statement.

Bob Ravenscroft, a vice president at Bryan Health, agreed.

However, he said Bryan has been proactive in trying to make sure it has enough nurses, hiring more than 300 in the past year, including 200 in the past six months.

The health system now employs nearly 1,300 registered nurses.

Ravenscroft said he could not remember Bryan ever transferring patients to other hospitals because of staffing shortages.

Nursing shortages have long been a problem for hospitals, especially in recent years as the large baby boomer generation ages and requires more health care.

“In my almost 20 years in health care, there’s always been a need for new nurses,” Ravenscroft said.

According to a report released earlier this year by the Nebraska Center for Nursing, Lincoln has a current shortage of more than 400 registered nurses and about 150 licensed practical nurses.

Ravenscroft said Bryan has an advantage in that it has its own College of Health Sciences that can help provide it with a steady stream of new employees.

“Each year, about 50 percent of (nursing) graduates from our college end up being employed at Bryan,” Ravenscroft said.

Based on current enrollments, there are about 75 registered nursing students scheduled to graduate this calendar year, with that number jumping to more than 100 in both 2019 and 2020, he said.

New facilities for the Lincoln division of the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing, which opens this fall, also will increase the number of new nurses that can be trained in the city.

Despite the efforts to recruit more nurses, the shortage in the state is projected to worsen.

The Nebraska Center for Nursing report showed that the total nursing shortage, including registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and advanced practice registered nurses, doubled this year, to more than 4,000 from less than 2,000 last year. And it’s projected to grow to nearly 5,500 by 2025.

The Lincoln-area shortage is projected to grow to about 750 for registered nurses and more than 1,100 for all types of nurses.

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