Officials at St. Luke's Intensive Care Department are battling a massive staff shortage whose impacts are being felt throughout the health care facility.  And the reasons for the situation are complicated and not what it might appear on the surface.

The problem is compounded by what a St. Luke's staffer describes as a "mass exodus". That exodus has caused remaining employees to work extra long hours to make up for the shortfall.

According to an article in the Superior Telegram [paywall], many of those remaining nurses are essentially doing the job of two people. St. Luke's ICU nurse Jordan Baird explains:

"Most of our nurses here are working in hours way beyond what a normal 'FT' (full time) would be.  A lot of us are working 50, 60, 70-hour weeks at times and that's because we look out for one another.  We can't create nurses that can work out of thin air, so we stay and become an extra and we do everything we can."

That "mass exodus" detailed by another St. Luke's staffer has led to open beds which leads to a reduction in the amount of patients the facility can admit for care.  "An open bed does not mean that it's a staffed bed, and there's a big difference between the two."

St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth, MN
Nick Cooper - TSM Duluth

Singling out a cause for the staff exodus and the staff shortage isn't that easy.  Multiple elements have come together to create the 'perfect storm'.

According to Brittney Kurhajetz who works for St. Luke's as the Interim Critical Care Manager, "the main reasons for the shortage are early retirements, staff leaving the field due to burnout, and nurses choosing to work as travel nurses instead".  Those reasons are difficult to quickly rectify - especially the 'travel nurses' portion.  A relatively new concept - travel nurses get paid "get paid high rates because the contract process is extremely competitive, and many small health care organizations can't compete with larger organizations that can afford to pay higher wages".

One thing that doesn't seem to be contributing to the staff shortages - at least according to St. Luke's - is the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all employees. "[M]ost staff members either were willing to be vaccinated or received an exemption".  Details shared by the Superior Telegram show that 27 employees resigned back in October over concerns of the mandate; that number (27) represents less than 1% of the entire staff at St. Luke's.

St. Luke's Hospital Regional Trauma Center in Duluth, MN
Nick Cooper - TSM Duluth

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