By Ethan Weinstein
Like seemingly every other business in the area, Rutland Regional Medical Center (RRMC) is struggling to find staff. But these staffing woes have been compounded by an additional problem: an influx of patients who put off elective care during the Covid state of emergency.
“We are seeing here at Rutland Regional some of the most challenging times in recent history,” said President and CEO Claudio Fort. “We have been seeing higher than typical volumes in the emergency department. And in our inpatient units, there’s been many, many days that we’ve been full.”
People put off a range of appointments — elective surgeries, mental health care, and preventive screenings, to name a few — and staff has found that many patients are coming into the hospital in worse condition because of the delayed visits.
The largest staffing problem for RRMC is a dearth of nurses. Fort said that the hospital has “about 100 openings for nurses,” some direct care positions, other administrative, and a mix of both full- and part-time.
Like other hospitals in Vermont, RRMC has resorted to hiring temporary, traveling nurses as a stopgap solution. But RRMC pays a premium for these nurses, Fort said, and their stays are typically only 13 weeks.
To confront its need for nurses, RRMC has ramped up recruitment via social media. The hospital has also encouraged the human resources department to engage with interested applicants more quickly, shortening the time between showing interest and interviewing, as well as interviewing and hiring.
Despite the confluence of more patients and fewer nurses, RRMC is still encouraging community members to receive all care they neglected during 2020 and early 2021. Thankfully, because there has not been a large number of Covid patients, the situation remains manageable, for now, Fort said.
The patients who have needed treatment for Covid at RRMC have tended to require oxygen and sometimes intubation, Dr. Rick Hildebrant, director of hospital medicine, has said.
Fort stressed three preventative community measures to allow RRMC to continue to handle their patient load.
“First and foremost, if you have not been vaccinated, now that the Pfizer vaccine is fully approved, if you still have questions, please take another consideration,” Fort said. “Number 2 is please go back to wearing masks in indoor spaces,” he continued. And lastly, “If you can please try to practice good hygiene — hand hygiene — and try to practice social distancing to the extent that you’re able to.”
Currently, RRMC is requiring all staff be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1 or submit to weekly Covid testing.