Hospitals across the state are restricting elective surgeries and other unnecessary procedures and appointments, disrupting the workflow. Local hospitals are preparing for a spike in patients due to COVID-19. Hospital administrators say they are trying to ensure enough staff is available to care for an anticipated influx of patients while maintaining employee pay and benefits during pandemic.
Hospitals throughout the nation are facing a unique challenge.
"Every hospital in the United States right now is seeing their volumes dramatically reduced," says President at CHI St. Alexius Health Kurt Schley.
"Elective surgeries have been stopped. This is out of safety for the patients. It's out of preservation of personal protective equipment," Schley says.
"You have a pandemic that's going across the country. And so, what people end up doing in society is they might not choose to come in to the clinic for a specific thing for a period of time. And they're like, I can come in another month or two months and we've done a lot of rescheduling," says Vice President of Operations at Sanford Health for Bismarck Fred Fridley.
Preparing for and coping with COVID-19 creates an issue.
"We have some people that do get flexed home," Fridley says.
"Their normal hours are reduced," Schley says.
Both hospitals are taking steps to ensure employees maintain hours and pay while also gearing up for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases. Both plans include a labor pool for staff. This would allow employees to work different jobs they're qualified to do to sustain hours.
CHI is offering employees the option to use paid time off and will allow their PTO balance to go negative up to 40 hours. If an employee's income drops by 10% or more, CHI will pay their health insurance premiums for the period in which their income decreased. CHI is asking employees that don't deal with patients to reduce their hours by 25%. But, they are offering them the same PTO and health insurance deals.
Sanford is cross training employees so that they can work other, needed jobs in the hospital. It has given one-time payments to staff based on their work volumes. If an employee uses company health insurance, Sanford has forgiven their premiums for the next three months.
"We're also doing this so that in the event that there is a surge, we have resources that we can call in immediately to care for our patients," Schley says. Administrators say the plans will help with an anticipated a surge of non-urgent patients when the pandemic abates. "We want to be able to have a workforce that is in place that can care for our community as we get back to normal," Schley says.
Despite the challenges, administrators stay hopeful. "This gives us a great opportunity as we look into the future. Post-COVID and how we look at the operations of our facilities," Fridley says. And continue to evaluate each hospitals' workforce needs on a daily basis.
Emmaline Ivy Reporting, KFYR