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Staffing shortages leave scores of Hawaii hospital patients ‘waitlisted’ for long-term care beds

Staffing shortages aren’t just hitting hospitals hard. They’re also throwing long-term care settings into “crisis” mode.
Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 3:43 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2022 at 5:43 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Staffing shortages aren’t just hitting hospitals hard.

They’re also throwing long-term care settings into “crisis” mode, leaving scores of patients in limbo as they wait in hospital beds for available space in skilled nursing homes or related care settings.

Health officials say there are approximately 150 “waitlisted” patients in hospitals across the state.

That means the person needs to be in a nursing home or some type of skilled nursing facility but that there isn’t an available bed.

The figure is significant given just how full hospitals are. On Wednesday, the number of patients in Hawaii hospitals hit a new all-time high ― at 2,395.

Officials say 399 have COVID.

Newly arrived relief nurses are helping and hospital executives say they are handling the surge, but the backlog in long-term care settings is exacerbating the problem.

“I get calls everyday from hospital CEOs saying anything you can do to take more patients,” said Wes Lo, CEO of Ohana Pacific Management Company and Hale Makua Health Services.

He said the reality is, “Right now it’s crisis mode.”

Since late December, COVID call outs have forced the state’s largest post-acute care provider to drastically reduce new admissions.

Lo estimates up to 15% of staff haven’t been to work this week because they’ve either been infected or exposed to COVID. Add to that another issue: Hundreds of frontline positions have gone unfilled.

“Some places, we’re worse than half staff,” Lo said.

It’s a problem on all of the major islands, creating a bottleneck in patient care that prevents hospitals from releasing patients.

“Maui Memorial is particularly hard hit. They have close to 50 waitlisted patients right now,” said Hilton Raethel, head of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

And they’re not alone.

On Tuesday, Straub had 184 patients in its hospital, an all-time record. Close to 10% were waitlisted.

“They would be in much better shape if they were able to discharge these patients,” Raethel said.

On Wednesday morning, FEMA approved emergency funding for close to 1,000 traveling healthcare workers for Hawaii. Local health officials asked if some of those staff could cover shifts at skilled nursing facilities but the agency denied that request.

“It’s hard because we’re not getting the resources. Yet they’re relying on us,” Lo said.

Meanwhile, workers still on the job are desperate for relief.

“I’m not aware of any patient care issues,” said Lo. “But if we’re not careful ― burnout, it’s a problem. And you don’t want to have too many people doing too many double shifts. It’s not safe.”

Lo added bringing in traveling nurses on their own has also been extremely difficult due to the cost and high demand nationally.

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