Small regional hospitals are still overwhelmed but are attracting healthcare workers

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — We’ve been reporting on major staffing shortages across our healthcare system for years now.

The pandemic made things worse but rural health systems are having some luck attracting new employees. During the pandemic, the smaller, more regional hospitals essentially saved our entire health system from collapse. It used to be that if a patient was critical, he or she was transported right away to a bigger facility.

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That’s not always the case anymore and that has opened up more opportunities for those who live in rural communities to work in those communities.   

While the pandemic may be over for most of us, things haven’t actually slowed down much inside the walls of any local hospital. 

 “We’ve almost just transitioned from a respiratory prevalence in the hospital to heart failure heart disease chronic kidney disease some of the bread and butter medicine that just wasn’t being cared for during the pandemic,” said Dr. J. Chad Teeters, the president of Noyes Health in Geneseo and Dansville.

“So, the stresses are the same. The population, the occupancy in the hospital is still at an all-time high and staffing remains at an all time low.”

Hospitals continue to rely on outside help like they did during the pandemic. 

“It will take years to recover from that even under the best of circumstances so, we anticipate years of being reliant on travel nursing to close that gap and deficit in staffing of hospitals,” Teeters said.

In the meantime, they’re trying to build a pipeline of healthcare workers. 

“Certainly in the rural communities we have a higher proportion of our kids who may not necessarily be looking to enter the college field right away or just don’t have great plans as to what comes next,” Teeters said. “We can bring them in get them benefits get them good paying jobs that have a professional ladder that they may otherwise not be able to get.”

“We can train a phlebotomist or a patient care tech in about 2 to 4 weeks get them their certification, We’ll pay them 40 hours a week. They get eight hours a week to go take classes.”

So, it’s not just a free education. You continue to make your hourly wage while you get it. The increased cost of gas, groceries and just about everything else. Also, it has more young people deciding to stay closer to home.

Because these hospitals, in most cases, now care for acutely ill patients, they can get that bigger hospital experience in the emergency or operating room.

Dr. Teeters tells me he’s optimistic about how his recruitment plans have been going so far but as he mentioned, it will take years to get to a comfortable staffing rate. That’s because on top of people leaving during the pandemic for burnout, early retirement, vaccine mandates, or just not wanting to do it anymore. It also scared some away from even being interested in healthcare jobs period.