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Short-staffed nursing homes force hospitals to keep patients that don't need their treatment

Colorado estimates more than 300 people are waiting to be transferred out of a hospital and into a nursing home or care facility.

DENVER — There could be a way to clear some space in Colorado hospitals that are full right now. 

Hundreds of people hospitalized don’t need to be there, but staffing shortages in nursing homes give them nowhere else to go, and long-term care facilities can’t afford to open up more beds.

The state estimates more than 300 people are currently waiting to be transferred out of a hospital and into a nursing home or care facility. 

Doug Farmer, with Colorado Health Care Association, said there is plenty of space in nursing homes. The association is the advocacy group for long-term care facilities in Colorado.  

"There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 vacant [nursing home] beds in the state of Colorado right now," said Farmer. "You have people right now sitting in Colorado hospitals that should be in long-term care centers that can’t go there because there aren’t workers to care for them."

That’s higher than normal. But not all of those beds are staffed.

Mike Willis is the director of the Colorado Office of Emergency Management. He’s leading the fight to find enough people to staff every facility in the health care sector. The extra patients in hospitals are making an impact.  

"Because of their staffing challenges, they’ve had to close an entire wing or an entire unit and so those beds are available but they’re unstaffed," said Willis. "The shortages in the long term care facilities restrict the hospitals’ ability to transfer those patients out of a hospital."

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We know by now the entire state is short-staffed, but when it comes to nursing homes, Farmer thinks he knows why.

"In many instances, it is most definitely price gouging," said Farmer.

He said staffing agencies are hiring employees away from their facilities and offering to pay them more. The staffing agencies then turn around and charge the care facilities a lot more money to hire them back.

"We have seen an employee leave one of our care centers, go to work for a staffing agency, and within days return to that same care community at a much higher rate of pay, not really of pay, it’s a higher rate of cost," said Farmer. "The staff member themselves may make a little bit more money, but in reality, most of the increased cost is going into the pocket of the staffing agency."

Farmer said it’s gotten to the point where care facilities are forced to admit fewer people than deal with the increased costs.

The Colorado Health Care Association says it's working with the state to try and get funding to open up more beds. 

"The staffing side really is the challenge now. Finding staff, filling shifts, and continuing to admit and run our daily operations. That is kind of the challenge that we’re facing," said Rochelle Rindels, vice president of nursing and clinical services at Good Samaritan Society senior care facilities. There are seven locations in Colorado.

Good Samaritan said hiring staff is a big challenge, but saw more people apply for positions once a vaccine mandate was imposed. 

"We talked about the safety of our locations, our vaccine mandate, and that showed us that people are interested in working in a safe environment. They appreciate the steps that we’ve taken," said Rindels. "They were sick of working with outbreaks in buildings and they wanted to be part of an organization that put safety as a priority with the mandate."

They are close to 100% compliance with the vaccine mandate at Good Samaritan locations across the country. That's helping to keep infections low. 

"The good news is that with any cases that we’re seeing, we’re certainly not seeing the severity of illness or the deaths that we did a year ago. That’s been largely impacted by the vaccine uptake," said Rindels. "We’re really excited during the holiday season to be open to visitation and invite our family members back in because of our high vaccination rate."

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